Trend Watch

Bill Clinton: 'I’m Basically Your Standard Redneck'

Lookups for 'redneck' spiked after Clinton used the word to describe his own background

Lookups for redneck, an often disparaging term for “a white member of the Southern rural laboring class” (or a person whose behavior is similar to that of that group) spiked after former president Bill Clinton used the word during a discussion of Trump's base:

Former president Bill Clinton on Tuesday used the word “redneck” to describe supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “Look, man the other guy’s base is what I grew up in,” he said during a Florida appearance. ”You know, I’m basically your standard redneck.”
—Jack Davis,, 12 Oct. 2016

Redneck has been in use since 1830 to refer, typically in derogatory fashion, to poor or unsophisticated whites, generally those inhabiting the southern United States. There is some ambiguity as to when the word began to be so applied, however, as redneck was often found used in the mid-19th century to also refer pejoratively to certain religious groups (the use of redneck from 1830 refers to Presbyterians).

…as we had, by some means or other, imbibed a strong aversion for Popery, and a dread and hatred for Catholics, or Rednecks, as we used to call them—why or wherefore we knew not.
Raleigh Register (Raleigh, NC), 19 Mar. 1841

By the end of the 19th century the word had lost any overt religious significance and taken on a definite meaning in specific reference to Southerners.

There was an element in the Southern United States, which still exists, known to northern people as “poor white trash,” and locally known as “crackers,” “dirt-eaters,” and “red-necks,” which was a constant reproach, it being thought that slavery caused and fostered it.
Daily Honolulu Press, 15 Sep. 1885

A number of people have characterized Clinton’s use of the term as offensive. While we are in no way seeking to dictate whether one should or should not take umbrage, it should perhaps be noted that the label is not seen as disparaging by all: there have been a number of people in recent decades who have proudly self-identified as rednecks, including Bill Clinton.

Herman says Clinton, a self-described redneck who grew up in backwoods Arkansas and knows his barbecue, can relate to the Southern male voter.
—William Gibson, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL.), 20 Oct. 1996

When it was his turn to speak, Clinton responded to Goldberg's teasing by riposting: "I was especially glad to see Whoopi Goldberg up here so I wouldn't be the only redneck on stage tonight."
The Gazette (Montreal, Que.), 19 Sept. 1992

Clinton, who also opposes forced return of Haitians, makes a similar appeal for giving opportunity to all types of Americans, "even ol` rednecks like me."
—William Gibson, _Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL.), 9 Mar. 1992

Keen readers will also observe that Clinton was describing himself as a redneck in the quote that drew such ire on Wednesday.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.

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