From Academic Kids

Hillbilly is a pejorative nickname for people who dwell in remote, rural, mountainous areas. In particular the term refers to residents of the Ozarks and Appalachia in the United States.



It is believed that the term "hillbilly" originally referred to Scots-Irish immigrants of mainly Presbyterian origin, who brought their cultural traditions with them when they moved to the United States. Many of their stories, songs and ballads dealt with past history from their original homeland, especially relating the tale of the Protestant King William III, Prince of Orange, who defeated the Roman Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Supporters of King William came to be known as Orangemen and Billy Boys (Billy being an abbreviation of William; the term "Billy Boy" is still used today, mainly in Northern Ireland). When considerable numbers of these Scots-Irish immigrants settled in hilly regions during the early 18th Century, they were nicknamed "hill billies" by the occupying British soldiers.

Alternatively, it is also speculated that the term emerged as a derogatory nickname for the hill-dwelling settlers of eastern Tennessee, most of whom were staunchly pro-Union during the American Civil War. Billy Yank was the common term for Union soldiers, the nemesis of the Confederate Johnny Reb.

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 century and the post-war period of the 1940s. The advent of the interstate highway system and television brought many previously isolated communities into mainstream United States culture in the 1950s and 1960s, but many communities with relatively traditional lifestyles remain throughout the region.

Historically, there were conflicts between 'hillbillies' and the planters who lived on the plains. During the American Civil War, many resident of western Virgina were pro-Union in that they generally did not own slaves and resented the political dominance of planters who did. This resentment was a contributing factor to the creation of the state of West Virginia. This affiliation may also be observed in the pro-Union names of many rural Appalachian areas, e.g. Lincoln County or Union County.

Country and Western music was originally called hillbilly music, even by its fans, until the late 1950s. However the older name is now deemed offensive (and silly) and is hardly ever used. The first tune that contained the word 'hillbilly' was “Hillbilly Boogie” by the Delmore Borthers in 1946. However, in 1927, the Gennett studios marked a recording of fiddler Jim Booker with other instrumentalists as “Made for hillbilly” and marketed it to a white audience. 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 Appalacians mountains. The people who actually sang these songs and lived in the Appalachians mountains never used this word to describe their own music. When the Country Music Association was founded in 1958, the term gradually fell out of use.

Modern usage

Today, "hillbilly" has increasingly insulting connotations - especially as knowledge of the word's fairly harmless origins are forgotten.

To the people of the Appalachian Mountains, the term "hillbilly" carries a negative connotation which has been greatly emphasized by how Hollywood movies and films portray the "hillbilly" as impoverished, ill-educated, toothless, shoeless, unstylish, inbred, etc. While such stereotyping is generally offensive, socio-economic realities have left much of the Appalachian region impoverished, although the economy has been steadily improving since the 1990s.

Hillbillies in fiction

Hillbillies have often been characterized as ignorant hicks.

See also


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