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Old 19 July 2010, 03:37 AM
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Default Origin of the term 'redneck'

I always heard that this term came from the fact that people's necks would get sunburned from working outside so much, but then along comes a History Channel show on Appalachian coal miners and their struggle to form a union, get better working condition, whatever it was. Anyway, these people all wore red bandannas around their necks when they protested.
So which one is right? Did the History Channel actually get something right?
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Old 19 July 2010, 03:50 AM
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Sunburnt necks seems the simplest explanation, and the one I've always heard.

What year was this protest? Does it predate the earliest known usage of "redneck"?
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Old 19 July 2010, 04:00 AM
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Online etymology dictionary has the term originating in late 1800's, with some usage prior to that, while the mine union issue happened in 1910 or so. Probably a safe bet that History Channel is mistaken (and I for one am shocked, I tell you.)
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Old 19 July 2010, 04:04 AM
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If it was on the history channel, I would think that the origin of the term redneck is derived from the blood spattered rifle necks used by some heroic force on the front lines of the European theater in WWII, which were ultimately cleaned by extreme detergent machines.
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Old 20 July 2010, 06:39 PM
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I saw that History channel program. I think in the case of the pro-union miners, the anti-union side called them rednecks b/c of the red bandanas - but they were using a derogatory term that already existed.
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Old 20 July 2010, 07:28 PM
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The OED dates "redneck" from 1830, though that first use may be a local term that didn't catch on. Otherwise, the earliest cite is from 1891. The term was used as a derogatory one for rural dwellers in the South and not miners.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OED
3. orig. N. Amer. (usu. derogatory). Originally: a poorly educated white person working as an agricultural labourer or from a rural area in the southern United States, typically considered as holding bigoted or reactionary attitudes. Now also more generally: any unsophisticated or poorly educated person, esp. one holding bigoted or reactionary attitudes.
Quot. 1830 may represent a more specialized use.

1830 A. ROYALL Southern Tour I. 148 This may be ascribed to the Red Necks, a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians in Fayetteville. 1891 in Amer. Speech 76 435 Primary on the 25th. And the ‘rednecks’ will be there... And the ‘hayseeds’,..they'll be there, too. 1904 Dial. Notes 2 420 Redneck, an uncouth countryman. ‘The hill-billies came from the hills, and the rednecks from the swamps.’ 1913 J. DAVIS Life & Speeches iii. 42 If you red-necks or hill billies ever come to Little Rock be sure and come to see mecome to my house.
Note that the rednecks came from the swamps, where coal is not mined.

The OED thinks the etymology derives from their necks getting red in the sun, but isn't sure. It might have something to do with the symptoms of pellegra, or because Presbyterians in the first cite wore red bandannas for religious reasons.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OED
Senses A. 3, A. 4, and A. 5 may all have alluded originally to the sunbaked or sunburnt skin of fair-skinned people in various different contexts, although it is only in the case of sense A. 5 that this is reasonably certain (albeit originally in Afrikaans rather than in English, and compare quot. 1900 at sense A. 5 for a dissenting view).
The spec. use in quot. 1830 at sense A. 3 may or may not be connected with the later wider use at this sense. Some assume that this is the case, and that the wider use arose on account of the large numbers of Presbyterian settlers in rural areas of the southern United States. Alternatively, the wider use may simply allude to the sunbaked skin of white labourers; compare slightly later RED-NECKED adj. 2. For an alternative suggestion that the reference may be to the effects of pellagra resulting from the diet of poor people in this region see Amer. Speech 59 (1984) 284. In spite of the chronology, it is possible that the use in quot. 1830 at sense A. 3 may simply show a narrower application of the wider use. Alternatively, it has been suggested that it may perhaps allude to pieces of red cloth worn by some Presbyterians around their necks as a commemoration of the tradition that some of the signatories of the Solemn League and Covenant (see COVENANT n. 9a) had signed using their own blood, but there is apparently no corroboration for this.
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Old 20 July 2010, 09:27 PM
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I saw a snippet of that History Channel show in passing too. The events that Billy Ray Cyrus was referencing happened in 1920--starting with the Matewan Massacre, which John Sayles' film Matewan depicted. That shooting happened on May 19, 1920, and precipitated a major rebellion of mine workers, leading to Billy Mitchell's attempt at an aerial bombardment of them at Blair Mountain.

All of which happened long after 1830--I had always heard the story about the sunburnt necks of working men being the reason for the term. It sounds about right to me.

Ali "gimme some sunscreen" Infree
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  #8  
Old 27 August 2013, 06:40 PM
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The origin of terms can be a complex issue. A term like "redneck" can have multiple origins, or it can fade away and return via a separate impetus. To illustrate, just because my name is "James Brown" doesn't mean my name comes from the soul singer. My parents had entirely separate and valid reasons to name me such, and they had probably never heard of the singer.

While it's clear that the Blair Mountain miners were not chronologically the first to use the term "redneck," it IS pretty clear that the term was used because they chose to identify themselves with red handkerchiefs around their necks. I've read both that they described themselves as "rednecks," and that they were (derisively?) referred to in the press as such. The accounts are many and varied, and I have little reason to contest their veracity.

I'm unsure as to whether any of these people were aware that the term had been used previously. It's entirely possible the miners created the term from... well... whole cloth and thereby brought a forgotten word back to life. (Braaaaaaainssssss)

The term we use today has been in use at least since the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, so it may well be so that the current meaning is entirely derived from those bandannas, which were donned exactly 92 years ago as I write this.

*hat tip to my union brothers*

JB
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Old 08 September 2013, 03:02 AM
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This is actually the first time I've heard any other explanations beside the "sunburnt necks" one.
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Old 04 March 2014, 04:11 PM
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I read that it goes all the way back to the Scots Covenanters who wore red neck-cloths to protest the re-introduction of the Episcopacy; as many Covanenters settled in the southern colonies in the piedmont and the Appalachian regions, their traditions were handed down there.
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