Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lexical deregionalization: Snowbillies, rednecks, white trash

One of the class-based insults being hurled at Sarah Palin now is snowbilly. Urban Dictionary has a definition of the term (here; see here for a tie-in to Obama):
The select population in the colder, upper Midwest who are poor, uneducated, sheltered, and close[d]-minded. The hillbilly far away from the South.

"Those cheap ass snowbillys don't know how to tip. If you can't afford to tip, then you can't afford to go out to eat..."
Synchronically, snowbilly is a blend (or maybe backformation, whatevs) from hillbilly. The latter is an Americanism, dating to the turn of the 20th c., judging from the Dictionary of American Regional English and the OED. (Hill-william is also attested!) I don't think it's very productive, but rockabilly springs from hillbilly music.

While it's not transparent to American English speakers today, billy actually exists as a free form, namely a Scots/northern English word for 'fellow, mate', etc. (See the OED.)

The term has long since moved beyond people with ties to southern culture, let alone the mountain South. But I guess it doesn't feel quite right in the far north, like the Upper Midwest or Alaska. The fine historian of the American South James Cobb wrote this (in Away Down South: A history of Southern identity):
The national embrace of so many of the activities and traits once deemed distinctly southern raises questions about how much longer they can be legitimately identified with the South.
He exemplifies this precisely with the kinds of values and associations that Palin was intended to bring to the Republican ticket: fundamentalist christianity, showing "Americanness … through ostentatious professions of patriotism", and so on. (He discusses things like the post-regional popularity of country music and NASCAR as well.)

I've noted reports that the soon-to-be father of Palin's grandchild is a self-described "fuckin' redneck". That term is older, dated back to the early 19th c. Here's the OED definition:
A member of the white rural labouring class of the southern States; one whose attitudes are considered characteristic of this class; freq., a reactionary. Originally, and still often, derogatory, but now also used with more sympathy for the aspirations of the rural American.
But it goes farther, I only discovered this morning (here):
… former alcoholic turned conservative talk show host Glen Beck referred to himself as "White trash" and argued that there are many "white trash families" in America and Sarah Palin should be vice president because she represents those "White trash" family values … .
Wow. Not that long ago, I suspect, associating a national political figure with being white trash would have gotten you fired from CNN.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, hold on: Bush and Cheney both had DUIs, and Cheney had six of them if memory serves. I'm not seeing much new here.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that we have rednecks and white trash (both the terms and the referents) up here in Canada (not in the South, nor even in America!) - though I don't think I've ever heard anyone here call someone from Canada a hillbilly, so you guys probably legitimately own that one.

eile said...

You misspelled Yoakam, who is from Pikeville, KY, and was raised in Ohio. Buck Owens was from Texas and the only Okie roots he has were maternal grandparents who moved there. You need to get your facts straight before you start blogging.

Mr. Verb said...

Oops, somebody told me that recently and I didn't even think to check it. Anyway, I cut the line.

Lillie said...

When I lived in Alaska, the term I heard was "sledneck."