Hillbilly

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Hillbilly is a term referring to people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas of the United States, primarily Appalachia. Due to its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory, and so is usually offensive to those Americans of Appalachian heritage. However, the term is also used in celebration of their culture by the mountain people themselves.

Contents

History

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 18th century 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, a conjectural etymology for the term is that it originated in 17th century Ireland for Protestant supporters of King William III during the Williamite War.[1] The Irish Catholic supporters of James II referred to these northern Protestant supporters of "King Billy", as "Billy Boys". However, Michael Montgomery, in From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English, states "In Ulster in recent years it has sometimes been supposed that it was coined to refer to followers of King William III and brought to America by early Ulster emigrants…, but this derivation is almost certainly incorrect… In America hillbilly was first attested only in 1898, which suggests a later, independent development."[2]

Harkins theorizes that use of the term outside the Appalachians arose in the years after the American Civil War, when the Appalachian region became increasingly bypassed by technological and social changes taking place in the rest of the country. Until the Civil War, the Appalachians were not significantly different from other rural areas of the country. After the war, as the frontier pushed further west, the Appalachian country retained its frontier character, and the people themselves came to be seen as backward, quick to violence, and inbred in their isolation. Fueled by news stories of mountain feuds, such as that in the 1880s between the Hatfields and McCoys, the hillbilly stereotype developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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