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Hillbillies, Hillbilly

Posted by GPP on September 26, 2003

In Reply to: Hillbillies, Hillbilly posted by Smokey Stover on September 26, 2003

: : :
: : : Hill-Billies
: : : ( Billies who live on the hills )

: : : King "Billy", the dutch protestant King of England (William of Orange)who vanquished catholic King James, is the hero of the "Scots-Irish" or "Scotch-Irish" people. Billy is probably the most common name amongst these group of people.

: : : The "Scots-Irish" are a Lowland Scottish, mixed ethnic - Nordic-Celtic-English people who were the driving force of British invasion and colonisation in Ireland from the 1600's onward. Great numbers of them settled in Ireland, but so many left for the USA, settling mostly in the Southern states.

: : : All resettlements in Ireland were repelled by the Irish, except for the final one, which was the replantation of the province of Ulster, during which, the Irish had suffered their greatest defeats, and had their lands confiscated and resettled, by the "Scots-Irish".

: : : Scots-Irish in Northern Ireland consider their identity as very definitely "British" - and not "Irish" - to distinguish themselves from the native Irish.

: : : However, the ancestors of many Scots-Irish descendents in the USA left Ireland at a time before history had a chance to pour salt in old wounds, with the creation of the Orange Order, and the seeds of division.

: : : Therefore, many Scots-Irish would have been more sympathetic to the idea of a free Ireland, and many more would have described themselves as Irish.

: : : Therefore, "Billy" is often quoted in textbooks as another term for an Irishman.

: : : hth
: : : E

: : That's interesting. My family is German/English/Scotch-Irish with dash of Indian. I don't care for the term "hillbilly" (depends on who is saying it). Here's what I found:

: : HILLBILLY -- "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976): ".Mountaineer, 1834, first applied to one who hunted, wandered, or lived in the Appalachians; hillbilly , as Hill-Billy)."

: : "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988): "hillbilly is exactly what the word implies - a rustic from the hills.The earliest example of its use comes from the turn of this century and from the vicinity of Arkansas. Then its use spread throughout the South and it became especially common in Kentucky and West Virginia."

: : "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, H-O" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994. "1900.In short, a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammelled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he please, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."

: : The follow-ups preceding this have been very interesting, but I think they may insufficiently emphasize the contemptpuous connotations of the term "hillbilly," at least before WW 2 and before the era of political correctness. Hillbilly is a mostly jocular, but also derogatory, term used to characterize dwellers in the backwoods, but mostly in the southern Appalachians of the U.S. Supposedly hillbillies were mostly unemployed yokels, with little education and little money, who spoke a peculiar dialect of English, were suspicious of strangers and were usually armed with rifles used to shoot varmints (small mammals) for eating. Supposedly in-breeding and feuding were rife among the hillbillies of Appalachia, and the booze of which they drank too much was moonshine. Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" and his fellow Dogpatchers captured humorously some widespread views of Appalachian life.

: lOther commentators have pointed out that the true part of this picture is that the southern Appalachians were settled to a significant degree by Scotch-Irish (or, more politically correct, Scots-Irish) immigrants, who retained a lot of customs of folkloric interest including their dialect, of which remnants are found in the language spoken there today. TheScotch-Irish were originally inhabitants of SW Scotland who migrated to Ulster. A large number were recruited to do so by James I of England, who wanted to dilute the always troublesome Irish of Ulster. When the potato famine struck Ireland, thus exacerbating the normal state of poverty, the Scotch-Irish, like other Irishmen, climbed into overloaded boats to get to America. Not all went to Appalachia, but some did, and found a harsh geography with few roads. When coal mining came to Appalachia few of the poverty-stricken natives could afford to value their health above the money they could earn in the mines, and black-lung disease became a large public-health problem. (Safety measures and environmental laws are rarely enforced in southern coal mines.) Although coal miners are not exempt from the term hillbilly, in practice a miner not in the mine is usually in too poor health to get around to be photographed or interviewed by curious northerners. During the Depression the poverty of Appalachia ceased to be funny, and so did the term hillbilly. When it is used today, it is always in a purely jocular or satirical context.

Sorry, Smokey, your post went up while I was still typing mine; I hadn't meant to fork the thread. All I said was,
"Note that in the US the term 'Scotch-Irish' is nearly always used, rather than 'Scots-Irish'."

Concerning your comment about PC, Scots-Irish is definitely un-PC in Ireland and the UK, but so far as I'm aware, not at all in the US.