don't call me that
This bit of text is a continuation of our exposition on the various names, labels and epithets used to describe members of the traditional Appalachian culture and diaspora. We previously took a look at Appalachian, hillbilly and redneck. But before we delve into new terms, I would like to share a new item that I have found that is related to the term “redneck”.
In Adams county, Ohio in the Ohio bluegrass region against the physical Appalachian foothills is the small community of Cherry Fork. This village is north of Manchester, Ohio where in 1790, Col. Massie, a Virginian from Goochland county began the settlement of the Virginia Military District. Among the soldier-pioneers were men from Goochland and Rockbridge counties as well as men from other states, especially Pennsylvania. Many of these men were Scotch-Irish.
Fourteen years later and a year after Ohio became a state, a group of Coventanters from Rockbridge county, built a church in Cherry Fork. This is the same group of folks who had been known as rednecks in Great Britain.
The history of this term is fairly well documented and we know that at least by the Civil War the term was in wide use. The entry in Wikipedia is just about as good as it is going to get as far as an etymology. The term originated in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1820s and was used by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1954 to title a chapter in her defense of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She quite rightly pointed out the slavery degraded poor whites as well as blacks.
The term was mostly used in the south and Appalachia by anyone who was not at the very bottom to describe those white folks who were. In my area we seldom use the term “white trash” but “trash” or the adjective “trashy” to mean the same. A locality would often be combined with “trash” such as holler trash or Jackson street trash or Farley Square trash. A related term would be “trailer trash”.
Today the usage of the term has become national while the power of the insult has somewhat softened. Many folks will use the term in a self deprecating attempt at humor. But the term still has a unique sting that perhaps comes from the dismissive nature of the epithet or the pity that is inherent in the term when used with less hate. The song White Trash from Southern Culture on the Skids seems to capture the view of most of us hillbillies in regard to the term white trash.
White Trash, don't call me that
you know I love you baby
don't you think just maybe
the way you talk down to me
would send a chill right through me
Most folks have a bit of fear or trepidation for hillbillies, rednecks and briars but not so much for white trash. If we are going to be hated I reckon we would also liked to be feared too.
The term briar brings us back to terms that are specifically for Appalachians. According to Wikipedia, a briar is a term for a migrant worker from Appalachia. The Wikipedia also states that the term is most used in Ohio and directed at Kentuckians and West Virginians. This would indeed be my personal experience growing up along the Ohio River. It may just be my view, but the term briar also has a connotation of “someone you don't want to mess with.”
In the 1989 film, Next of Kin staring Patrick Swayze, the character played by Liam Neeson is named Briar Gates. The general plot of the movie involves Kentucky hillbillies terrorizing mobsters in Chicago for the murder of their brother. I relate to this movie. I terrorized Clevelanders by marrying their sister.
While searching the Virginia Department
of Motor Vehicles database of vanity plate names, hilljack was the
only name that I found out of all of the possible hillbilly labels
that was not taken. I was gratified but seeing as how Hilljack is
the name of a country act I didn't want folks to think I was a fan
and not a hilliblly so I have the non-vanity plates still. But while
running a Google on hilljack, I learned that the term is again widely
used in Ohio for Appalachians but has a wider but more specific
In common usage a hilljack is a hillbilly who may be of a slightly higher socio-economic class and thus thinks that this makes him something other than a hillbilly. Of all the labels in this series, hilljack probably best describes me although I am now reformed. Many of the urban areas in and near Appalachia are full of hilljacks who think that they are somehow better than their cousins who are still living in the hollers. Charleston, West Virginia is full of them. I love Charleston and these hilljacks but they are totally deluded.
Hoopies and Hoosiers
Hoopie is a term widely used in Appalachian Ohio and Pennsylvania to denote a West Virginian. I find the term to be used more by the Catholic late-comers to the area from Italian and eastern European backgrounds and in that case used for any other Appalachian regardless of their home state.
Everyone is familiar with “Hoosier” as the nickname for people from Indiana and as the mascot of the university, but hoosier has a longer history as a synonym for hillbilly and indeed may come from the Anglo-Saxon word “hoo” for hill.
This is perhaps the rarest of all of the epithets for hillbilly but the one I heard most often as a child. I have found only one entry of this spelling and one of another spelling that is now lost to me but originated from a poster from Columbus, Ohio. The lost post with the spelling that I cannot remember explained that the term was used by Ohio hillbillies to describe those folks of an even lower class.
This other entry from an Ohio history site is a reprint of a 1902 history of Ross county, Ohio. The text smacks of the local color writing of the era, but almost exactly captures the connotation of the term hillican as I experienced it as a child in that region in the 1960s. Also, interestingly the piece used the term “do-less” which is a common term in our area for lazy. I think the author has incorrectly rendered the word owing to some backward folk etymology. This term which I know to have been used in western West Virginia is probably related to the word “due”.
As always we are interested in your experience with these labels and epithets.
P.S. The third part of this series will deal with the term "Cracker". So stay tuned, Anne.