Hillbilly is a term referring to people who dwell in remote,
rural, mountainous areas of the United States, primarily southern Appalachiaand the Ozarks. Due to its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory, and so is usually offensive to those Americans of Ozarkan and Appalachian heritage. However, the term is also used in celebration of the American culture by mountain people, such as illustrated by the "Hillbilly Hot Dogs" stand photo below. Such co-opting and neutralizing use is almost exclusively reserved for Appalachians themselves.
The origins of the term "hillbilly" are obscure. According to Anthony Harkins in "Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon", the term first appeared in print in a 1900 "New York Journal" article, with the definition: "a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."
The Appalachian region was largely settled in the 1700s by the
Scotch-Irish, the majority of whom originated in the lowlands of Scotland. Harkins believes the most credible theory of the term's origin is that it derives from the linkage of two older Scottish expressions, "hill-folk" and "billie" which was a synonym for "fellow", similar to "guy" or "bloke".
Although the term is not documented until 1900, there have been many conjectural etymologies for the term, including:
- The term originated in 17th century Ireland for Protestant supporters of King William of Orange. Fact|date=July 2008
Roman CatholicKing James II landed at Kinsale in Ireland in 1689 and began to raise a Catholic army in an attempt to regain the British throne. Protestant King William III, Prince of Orange, led an English counterforce into Ireland and defeated James II at the Battle of the Boynein 1690. A significant portion of William III's army was composed of Protestantsof Scottish descent (Planters) who had been settled on land confiscated from Catholics in Ulster, the northernmost of the four provinces of Ireland. The southern Irish Catholic supporters of James II referred to these northern Protestant supporters of King William as "Billy Boys" Fact|date=July 2008 — Billy being an abbreviation of William.
- The term in the United States was conferred during the early 18th century by the occupying British soldiers as a carry over from the Irish term, in referring to Scots-Irish immigrants of mainly
Presbyterianorigin, dwelling in the frontier areas of the Appalachian Mountains.Fact|date=February 2007 These Protestant Irish colonists brought their cultural traditions with them when they immigrated. Many of their stories, songs, and ballads dealt with the history of their Ulsterand Lowland Scot homelands, especially relating the tale of the ProtestantKing William III, Prince of Orange.
- Many of the settlers in the Appalachian mountains were of German origin and were named
Wilhelmwith the short form Willy, a common German name during that time. Those Wilhelms, who went by Bill or Billy, living in the Appalachian Mountains became known as "hillbillies", that is "Bills" who lived in the hills. Fact|date=February 2007
- The term emerged as a derogatory nickname given by the coastal plain-dwelling Southerners to the hill-dwelling settlers of Eastern
Tennessee, Western Virginia(including modern West Virginia), and Eastern Kentucky, many of whom were ambivalent to the Confederacy during the American Civil War.Fact|date=February 2007
The use of the word was probably most apt (and relatively inoffensive) during the period between the western expansion of the early-to-mid
nineteenth centuryand the post-war period of the 1940s. The advent of the interstate highwaysystem and televisionbrought many previously isolated communities into mainstream United Statesculture in the 1950s and 1960s. The Internetcontinues this integration, but many communities with relatively traditional lifestyles remain throughout the region.Fact|date=February 2007
Historically, there were conflicts between the mountain-dwelling "hillbillies" and the planters who lived on the coastal plains. During the
American Civil War, many residents of western Virginia were pro-Union in that they generally did not own slaves and resented the political dominance of planters who did. The image of the Unionist mountaineer in West Virginiais misleading, however, as the mountainous counties of central, southern, and eastern West Virginiaall voted for the Ordinance of Secession on May 23, 1861. [Curry, "A House Divided", county votes pgs. 141-47] A total war was waged against the mountaineers in much of West Virginia, whose residents were deemed "savages" by Union military authorities. Braxton and Webster counties were particularly targeted by Gen. George Crook. [Kenneth W. Noe essay "Exterminating Savages" pg. 116 in "The Civil War in Appalachia, Collected Essays"] "Braxton and Webster are the haunts of the worst Rebel Bushwhackers in the country," wrote Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes. [Curry, "A House Divided," pg. 75] After the war, the Wheeling government carved two new counties out of Secessionist counties and named them after Lincoln and Grant.
Urban Slang Use
The term hillbilly is commonly used in non-Appalachian areas as a reference in describing socially backward people that fit certain "hillbilly" characteristics. In this context, it is often (though not always) derogatory. Although the described person may not reside in a region that has hills of any kind, it is substituted in place of more disparaging terms like
white trash. In urban usage, it is sometimes used interchangeably for terms like Redneck.
"Hillbilly music" was at one time considered an acceptable label for what is now known as
country music. However, some artists and fans, notably Hank Williams Sr., found the term offensive even in its heyday. The label, coined in 1925 by country pianist Al Hopkins,David Sanjek, "All the Memories Money Can Buy: Marketing Authenticity and Manufacturing Authorship", p. 155–172 in Eric Weisbard, ed., "This is Pop", Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-674-01321-2 (cloth), ISBN 0-674-01344-1 (paper). p. 156–157.] persisted until the 1950s.
Now, the older name is widely deemed offensive (and inappropriate). However, the term "hillbilly music" is now sometimes used to describe
old-time music. An early tune that contained the word "hillbilly" was "Hillbilly Boogie" by the Delmore Brothersin 1946. Earlier, in the 1920s, there were records by a band called the Beverly Hillbillies. In 1927, the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana, made a recording of black fiddler Jim Booker with other instrumentalists; their recordings were labeled "made for Hillbilly" in the Gennett files, and were marketed to a white audience. Also during the 1920s, an old-time music band known as the Hill Billies featuring Al Hopkins and Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, achieved acclaim as recording artists for Columbia Records. By the late forties, radio stations broadcast music described as "hillbilly," originally to describe fiddlers and string bands, but was then used to describe the traditional music of the people of the Appalachian Mountains. The people who actually sang these songs and lived in the Appalachian Mountains never used these terms to describe their own music.
Popular songs whose style bore characteristics of both hillbilly and
African Americanmusic were referred to, in the late 1940s and early 1950s as hillbilly boogie, and in the mid-1950s as " rockabilly". Elvis Presleywas a prominent player of the latter genre. When the Country Music Association was founded in 1958, the term "hillbilly music" gradually fell out of use. However, the term "rockabilly" is still in common use. [http://www.rockabillyhall.com/]
Later, the music industry merged hillbilly music,
Western Swing, and Cowboy music, to form the current category C&W, Country and Western. The famous bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clementsdescribed his style of music as "hillbilly jazz." Billy Hill and the Hillbilliesare a musical/variety group at Disneyland Park (Anaheim)in Anaheim, California.
In fiction & popular culture
Hillbillies have often been characterized as naïve or ignorant
*The hillbilly lifestyle of
the Ozarkswas gently parodied in the comic strip Li'l Abner, which inspired a Broadway musical and movie by the same name.
*Another comic strip,
Snuffy Smithoffers a less gentle hillbilly family parody, featuring a lazy father, a hard-working church-attending mother, and a simple son "Jughaid" who wears a pan for a hat.
Ma and Pa Kettlewere very popular characters in comedic movies of the 1940s and 1950s.
Hard Haid Moein Disney's comics.
*In the 1960s American sitcom "
The Beverly Hillbillies", the Clampett family were supposed to have come from the hills near a fictional hamlet in Arkansas known as Bugtussle. While Granny was from "across the river" in Tennessee, Jed and his family were from Arkansas as noted to the references of Tulsa and Joplin being close by.
*Festus, a prominent character on the TV series "
Gunsmoke", belonged to a hillbilly clan.
Fuzzy Lumpkins, a villain from the " Powerpuff Girls" TV show, is a hillbilly.
*An episode of "
The Dukes of Hazzard" saw Bo and Luke rescuing Daisy from being forced to marry into a family of sociopathic hillbillies.
*A recurring character on "
The Simpsons", Cletus Spuckler(aka the "Slack-Jawed Yokel") and his family are stereotypical hillbillies.
*In the WWF, a character known as
Hillbilly Jimwas made to portray a large man with a huge beard and wearing overalls back in the 1980s as a frequent tag team partner of Hulk Hogan.
*The earliest television series dealing with hillbillies was
The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan, Richard Crenna, and Kathleen Nolan, about a West Virginia family that moves to California. The show ran from 1957-1963.
*The 1960s American sitcom "
The Andy Griffith Show" has two contrasting stereotypes of recurring hillbilly characters: The ignorant but kindly, impoverished but generous Darling family, portrayed by bluegrass band The Dillardsand Denver Pyle; and the belligerent, paranoid, frankly violent buffoon, Ernest T. Bass, portrayed by Howard Morris.
*In 1970, the author James Dickey published the
novel"Deliverance", a story about four men going for a canoe-trip on a river in the mountains of Georgia. They encounter several sociopathic hillbillies and are subsequently attacked, captured, tortured, and raped by them. (Based on a real canoe trip in which he was actually helped by friendly mountaineers.)
*On Nickelodeon's "
The Amanda Show", starring Amanda Bynes, a recurring skit titled "Hillbilly Moment" would be featured. Amanda Bynes and Drake Bellwould appear as stereotypical hillbillies and behave accordingly.
* A popular television comedy-variety show "
Hee Haw" starred several well-known country singers and regularly lampooned the stereotypical hillbilly lifestyle.
Rob Zombie's 1998 album, Hellbilly Deluxe, "Hellbilly" is a direct derivative of Hillbilly.
* In the popular late-night comedy show "
Saturday Night Live", hillbillies are portrayed in the skit "Appalachian Emergency Room", with injuries only associable with the common media representation of hillbillies.
* The Arkansas Chuggabug, driven by Luke & Blubber Bear — hillbillies in a wooden buggy driven by a coal-fired range in
Wacky Racesis an American animated television series from Hanna-BarberaProductions.
The Hillbilly Bearsanother animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, played on a social stereotype of the "hillbilly," with a gun-toting, mumbling father who was always "feudin'" with the neighbors.
Adult Swimshow, Squidbillies, focuses on a family of hillbilly/redneck squids and their stereotypical misadventures.
* In the 2006 Disney/Pixar hit film, Cars and the video game of the same name, there is hillbilly tow-truck named
* In the Nickelodeon animated show , the episode "" features a tribe of swamp-dwelling waterbenders that speak and behave like stereotypical hillbillies.
Lum and Abnerwas a popular radio show about two stereotypical hillbillies that ran from 1931 to 1954.
Thomas and Friends, there is a hillbilly tank engine named Silly Billy.
* In the animated series
King of the Hill, Hank Hill's neighbor Kahn Souphanousinphoneoften refers to Hank and the other Arlen, Texas locals as hillbillies.
* In the film
October Sky, about a group of young West Virginia amateur rocketry enthusiasts, the characters refer to themselves as 'hillbillies'.
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, Solaceon Town is also known as Hillbilly Town.
Hannah Montana, many people, including his own children, frequently refer to Robby Ray Stewart as a hillbilly.
* In the WWE, there is currently a hillbilly-themed tag team known as "Jesse and Festus," with the diminutive Jesse providing the "brains of the operation" while the massive but unintelligent Festus providing the muscle.
Jerry Springer, hillbillys often appear on the show with many episodes named "Hillbilly Love".
* One example of this are the various hillbilly innuendos on the syndicated television show "
Married… with Children", which was set in Chicago and dealt regularly with Peggy Bundy's hillbilly upbringing in rural Wisconsin [Wikipedia21 Feb 2008] .
* Nickelodeon's syndicated cartoon program "
Hey Arnold!" places a hillbilly residence inside of a sprawling metropolitan city [Hey-Arnold.com [http://www.hey-arnold.com/Arnold/cast_sti.html "Stinky Peterson (and family)"] ] .
List of ethnic slurs
* Hillbilly heroin
* "Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon", by Anthony Harkins
* "Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies", by J.W. Williamson
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