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I found something by Googling about roots and negative meaning but more than it I want to know if there is a positive or neutral usage too. Is it something like geek or nerd and the other slangy stereotypes or a serious history is hidden behind ?

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It is initially a pejorative, but like geek and nerd can be interpreted positively in the right circumstances. –  Mitch Feb 3 '13 at 0:50
    
Mitch, Thank you! Would you please write some examples in positive usage? I could not find by Googling. –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 1:05
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Both answers explain. It all depends on context, so an example could be read either way. "That guy is a real redneck". "That guy is a total geek". Said in the right place, could be a compliment. –  Mitch Feb 3 '13 at 1:52
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@Mitch: I cannot conceive of a context in which redneck could be used positively. You'd have more luck with asshole, frankly. (but don't cheat and cite a reference to anything sexual! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 3 '13 at 2:13
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@FumbleFingers: see mgb's and Jon's answers. It's hardly ever positive. The rare positive instances would be in contrast to something like 'snob'. –  Mitch Feb 3 '13 at 15:13
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The short: yes, there is "history" behind the term similar to the information from the OED via @FumbleFingers. However, many white farmers were and are proud of their hard work ethic and are not ashamed of a farmer's tan.

The degree of pejoration, however, is much more complex, and I'm just baffled at the strong responses that the use of redneck is always negative. The long: a different perspective.

In the last 20+ years of country and country pop music, lyricists have ?reclaimed redneck much like the Black community has re-purposed nigger. The 2004 country hit "Redneck Woman" by Gretchen Wilson exemplifies the "I'm X and proud of it" sentiment, @JonHanna's excellent response.

The chorus:

I'm a redneck woman, I ain't no high class broad / I'm just a product of my raising; I say "hey y'all" and "yee-haw" / And I keep my Christmas lights out on my front porch all year long / And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels* song / So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country / Let me get a big "hell yeah" from the redneck girls like me

*In subsequent refrains, she names Tanya Tucker and ol' Bocephus

Lyrics to Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson

Her bio includes a National Coalition for Literacy Leadership Award in 2009, the same year she launched her own record label, "Redneck Records."

Similar examples of redneck ?pride can be heard in the following examples, which is by no means a comprehensive list:

  • Hi-tech Redneck by George Jones
  • Redneck Rhythm & Blues by Brooks &Dunn
  • Redneckified by Neal McCoy
  • Hicktown by Jason Aldean
  • A few more Rednecks by Charlie Daniels Band
  • Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band
  • Hillbilly Deluxe by Brooks & Dunn
  • Redneck Yacht Club by Craig Morgan
  • That's how they Do it In Dixie by Hank Williams Jr.
  • Boondocks by Little Big Town
  • Country Boy by Alan Jackson

n.b.: The main point expressed in most of these songs is not self-denigrating humor à la Jeff Foxworthy or Chris Rock. Country music more often expresses praise and positive identification with its heritage.

Personally, I'm a Virginia native, and while it's more likely you'd call me a nerd than a redneck, I would not be offended by either. In my experience, Southerners are perfectly likely to identify themselves with the term.

One of my favorite country songs is Sammy Kershaw's Queen of my Double Wide Trailer, with this refrain:

So I made her the queen of my double wide trailer / With the polyester curtains and the redwood deck / Now she's run off and I've got to tail her / Dang her black heart and her pretty red neck

Definitely an example of a red neck being a desirable quality.

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livresque, Thank you! A sort of great examples to find the matter better as a non-native. Surely I do not believe in stereotypes and prefer to ignore them and do not use of them to attack people. It seems an out of date behavior for me to attach a title to the people I am not able to understand them or critique them logically without insulting. –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 22:09
    
Calling all rednecks...I can't possibly be the only Southerner here. I would love to hear from you all. –  livresque Feb 27 '13 at 17:07
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As a non-native growing up in Kentucky, I've definitely met people who would self-identify as redneck. (Though, probably more people who use hillbilly.) That said, I also know many who would be offended by being called either of those terms, especially by someone who wasn't from the region. –  starwed Mar 3 '13 at 18:27
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Generally pejorative - I would probably not use it unless you were sure of your audience.

But Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy have reclaimed it in a humourous context - rather like black comics use of nigger.

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Just because black people (who perforce can't deny their skin colour) can accept the label nigger in certain contexts doesn't have much bearing on whether anybody wants to self-identify as a "redneck" and find a way to be proud of that term (or think it's funny, whatever). It would never be a good label for a comic to toy with - even/especially if he knew his entire audience were all rednecks and proud of themselves. You'd never persuade a redneck to accept the label, I think. –  FumbleFingers Feb 3 '13 at 2:19
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@FumbleFingers - Believe it or not, there are numerous people who use the term freely and with pride amongst each other. But I would think that being called one by someone else is a different matter. –  Lynn Feb 3 '13 at 2:45
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@FumbleFingers Foxworthy is indeed popular with the rednecks he talks about, because he is clearly on the inside of the culture looking out. His audience understands that it is at bottom those outside whom he is mocking, those who created and sustain the stereotype while affecting to despise his frankness as "bad taste". And the red neck is in a sense a badge of honor: it is the mark of the oppressed sharecropper, who bent over the plow earns both his own living and his genteel landlord's. –  StoneyB Feb 3 '13 at 3:58
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@livresque: Given the top-rated answer here starts off by claiming that "wife-swapping sodomite" can have positive connotations, I don't really think I have anything more to contribute. There will always be some people with quirky attitudes, but overstating their significance just means that in the end no terminology can really be said to have any positive or negative associations. –  FumbleFingers Feb 27 '13 at 16:02
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@FumbleFingers: I think the key word in Jon Hanna's response is repurposed. I've heard redneck used affectionately, and Harvard man used pejoratively. It all depends on the speaker, the speaker's background, the audience, and their background. Just about any term can be stretched to mean, "I'm one of you," "She's one of us," or, "He's one of them." It reminds me of the T-shirts worn by girls that say, "Talk nerdy to me." I don't remember that word ever being complimentary in the 1980s; funny how it's now used as a come-on. –  J.R. Mar 1 '13 at 21:55
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I know of a context in which "wife-swapping sodomite" had positive connotations: someone had referred to her political opponents as "a bunch of wife-swappers and sodomites", and some of said opponents made a humorous attack on her out of referring to themselves as "wife-swapping sodomites".

Any negative term can be re-purposed.

While some might argue Lenny Bruce came close, generally they cannot be re-purposed by people outside of the group they describe. The re-purposing often requires humour and while that can be light-hearted, often it's with a certain grim irony that doesn't lose sight of the negative sense. While a few can make complete reversals, they have generally already lost some of the negativity already (gay could probably not have become the neutral term it was if many people realised that it was applied to homosexuals because it once had meanings of "prostitute" and "promiscuous").

You can normally find a bunch of positive uses for just about any term by googling for "X and proud of it" or "I'm an X and proud of it", but to understand such positive senses you have to acquaint yourself more with the demographic and culture it covers than you do with uses of the term generally.

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Jon Hanna, "but to understand such positive senses...". May it is a reaction to this stereotype as an unfair action. –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 12:19
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@SnowFlake usually, but the way that reaction works differs. To look at the well-known controversy over the use of nigger by black people. Whatever one may think about that, NWA being "niggers with attitude", gangsta raps heavy use of the word, Chris Rock's "difference between niggers and black people" skit, (and we can sort of add Lenny Bruce's piece where he uses a variety of racial epithets for different groups, starting with that and ending with anti-Semitic terms for himself). These all differ, and can't be understood just as "a pejorative word has been re-purposed."... –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 '13 at 14:07
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or within the same group, re-purposings differ with words. Gay is now almost entirely neutral, queer has a strongly positive sense in some contexts (particularly those who hold that being perceived as different to the mainstream of society is a good thing, if you don't approve of that mainstream) but still negative in others. Faggot is much more usually negative, and so re-purposing in Mark Davis's show "Faggot with a gun" is much more aggressive - it holds onto the negative sense while re-using it. The differences don't just change from group to group and word to word, but use to use. –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 '13 at 14:13
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The same will apply to redneck, one person using it of themselves may attach it to down-to-earth values (mostly positive), another may say "yes, you're right, we do like to own firearms, be careful about pissing me off" (aggressive), another may be partly self-defacing and use it as an admission of seeing themselves as matching the stereotype of being uncultured (mildly negative), or use it as a criticism of their background if they are now estranged from it (still strongly negative). The same applies to all such words. You need to look at the context of each case. –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 '13 at 14:21
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Thanks, I should probably edit my answer to include them, which I'll do later, but I'm about to run off now. –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 '13 at 16:22
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Arguably this is General Reference, but the OED entry for slang redneck (orig. N. Amer.) is...

(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.

Obviously the white farm labourer would get a red sunburnt neck that wouldn't be noticeable on black workers (also negatively stereotyped at the time). And opinionated reactionaries, etc. can get quite worked up about innovation and change, becoming red in the face and neck when venting their spleen.

I've used and heard redneck many thousands of times, but never once positively. Always negative.

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FumbleFingers, Would you please tell me when and why you used of this negative word? I want to find which behavior or attitude made you mad to use it as a curse. –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 12:10
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@SnowFlake: I'm UK, and (like most Brits, I believe) I only use it to refer to Americans (actual, or hypothetical) with a particular set of prejudices attitudes (in particular, they look down on blacks, they like guns and fights, knock their wives & children around, and are generally thick). I wouldn't talk about redneck attitudes or people in other countries, for example. But bear in mind it's just a stereotype - for all I know there aren't any real rednecks anywhere except in the movies nowadays. I don't use it as a "curse" (as in "You're a bloody redneck!" –  FumbleFingers Feb 3 '13 at 17:48
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FumbleFinger, Ok! I got it. Surely there are many rednecks in all around the world by this definition which you and the others mentioned and it only doesn't belong to some uneducated farmers in south of America but You can find many racists,misogynist and antisocial characters around the world! –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 18:01
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@SnowFlake: I've always assumed the original "rednecks" would be primarily living in isolated rural communities where they could dominate the local "ethos" with physical violence on account of not having a rational argument for their bigotry (or the necessary powers of articulation). But America's a big country, so I suppose there are now "shock jock" radio presenters trying to find an audience down in that particular gutter. Together with the poor, I guess the ignorant are always with us. –  FumbleFingers Feb 3 '13 at 18:16
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@mcalex: Well, I certainly think the whole situation here is somewhat ironic. I doubt OP was ever seriously looking for an answer - he has a history of asking provocative questions just to stir up debate. I don't quite know what to make of the fact that the only answers getting upvotes here are those at pains to say "redneck" can be a positive epithet. I guess either ELU members are exceptionally tolerant, or we've got a few "closet rednecks" who don't like to denigrate their caste. –  FumbleFingers Feb 8 '13 at 13:18
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Sometimes people can playfully refer to themselves as "rednecks", but almost always the term is considered a derogatory one and synonymous with "white trash," "bigotry," or overly "provincial" folks. In the U.S. rednecks are thought to come from small farming communities, especially in the south, or blue collar towns. They, however, equally reside in the large cities. Recently, cable TV has begun to glorify the redneck.

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Patrick, I liked your reply and surely the other replies too. Know cultures to learn their languages! –  user36922 Feb 3 '13 at 12:07
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I'm glad it was helpful. Cheers! –  Patrick T. Randolph Feb 4 '13 at 1:04
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