Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term "hillbilly" originally referred to Scotch-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 Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in hilly regions during the early 18th Century, they were nicknamed "hill billies" by the occupying British soldiers.
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, the hill folk were almost uniformly pro-Union in that they generally did not own slaves and resented the political dominance of planters who did. This resentment led directly to the creation of the state of West Virginia. This affiliation may also be observed in the pro-Union names of many traditional hillbilly areas, e.g. Lincoln County or Union County.
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 poor, dumb, toothless, shoeless, unstylish, of questionable genetic stock, and so on. While such stereotyping is generally offensive, some aspects of hillbillies are sadly appropriate - for instance, many rural mountain communities have high crime rates, low employment levels and high poverty. Therefore, some mountain folk simply cannot afford proper dental care, medical care, or fashionable clothing.
More appropriate terms are "mountain folk", or "mountain woman" or "mountain man" (but not "mountaineer").
Hillbillies in fiction
Hillbillies have often been characterised as ignorant hicks.
- The hillbilly lifestyle was gently parodied in the comic strip Li'l Abner, which inspired a Broadway musical and movie by the same name.
- In the 1960s American sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, the Clampett family were supposed to have come from near the Ozarks.
- A recurring character on The Simpsons, Cletus Delroy, and his family, are stereotypical hillbillies.
Somewhat along the lines of its original terminology, in Scotland, supporters of Rangers F.C. a Protestant based football team still sing "Hurrah! Hurrah! We are the Billy Boys!" at matches - more so against games involving long time city rivals Celtic F.C. - a club with strong Catholic roots.
These regular Old Firm derby fixture involving the two Glasgow footballing giants was recently voted the most hate-filled 90 minutes in world football by Time Magazine, described as "sheer venom". The fixture is unique in that religion plays a part off-field.
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