Idioms, Cliches, and Slang
Name Origins

Where did the name 'redneck' come from?


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Answered 2013-05-08 18:25:37

The origins of the term redneck actually go back to the 1930's in a number of disputes in West Virginia. A large group of unionized miners marched south to Logan County, to pressure the mine owners there to allow their miners to become unionized. To identify themselves, the miners all wore red bandannas around their necks. The publicity associated with the battles and the subsequent court cases created the term red-necks, and at that time they were viewed as the good guys in the conflict.

Originally, the term came from the later 1800's in southern Georgia and Alabama to refer to sharecroppers who worked in the fields thus getting a sunburned neck. They were called 'rednecks' as a term meant for hard working people. Today, the term is used by comedians and commentators to refer to people who are uneducated, close-minded and racist individuals.

The origins of this term Redneck are Scottish and refer to supporters of the National Covenant and The Solemn League and Covenant, or "Covenanters", largely Lowland Presbyterians, many of whom would flee Scotland for Ulster (Northern Ireland) during persecutions by the British Crown. The Covenanters of 1638 and 1641 signed the documents that stated that Scotland desired the Presbyterian form of church government and would not accept the Church of England as its official state church.

Many Covenanters signed in their own blood and wore red pieces of cloth around their necks as distinctive insignia; hence the term "Red neck", (rednecks) which became slang for a Scottish dissenter*. One Scottish immigrant, interviewed by the author, remembered a Presbyterian minister, one Dr. Coulter, in Glasgow in the 1940's wearing a red clerical collar -- is this symbolic of the "rednecks"?

Since many Ulster-Scottish settlers in America (especially the South) were Presbyterian, the term was applied to them, and then, later, their Southern descendants. One of the earliest examples of its use comes from 1830, when an author noted that "red-neck" was a "name bestowed upon the Presbyterians." It makes you wonder if the originators of the ever-present "redneck" joke are aware of the term's origins - Rednecks?

*Another term for Presbyterians in Ireland was a "Blackmouth". Members of the Church of Ireland (Anglicans) used this as a slur, referring to the fact that one could tell a Presbyterian by the black stains around his mouth from eating blackberries while at secret, illegal Presbyterian Church Services in the countryside.

Source: Scottish History Online

Having been born in Alabama in the 1930s, I heard the term "redneck" long before George Wallace was ever heard of. It has been in popular use to describe rural southerners for as long as I can remember.


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