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I have avoided discussion of the word “hillbilly,” for the most part, on this blog because I think it’s an endless distraction. But I have to thank my good friend Bill Hopkins for this amazing disquisition on “hillbilly,” from a 1960 court decision in a divorce case, in which one of the “general indignities” that the plaintiff (husband) accused the defendant (wife) of was that she referred to his family as “hillbillies”:

“In respect to plaintiff’s evidence that Minnie once referred to relatives of the plaintiff as hillbillies: We suggest that to refer to a person as a “hillbilly,” or any other name, for that matter, might or might not be an insult, depending upon the meaning intended to be conveyed, the manner of utterance, and the place where the words are spoken. Webster’s New International Dictionary says that a hillbilly is “a backwoodsman or mountaineer of the southern United States;—often used contemptuously.” But without the added implication or inflection which indicates an intention to belittle, we would say that, here in Southern Missouri, the term is often given and accepted as a complimentary expression. An Ozark hillbilly is an individual who has learned the real luxury of doing without the entangling complications of things which the dependent and over-pressured city dweller is required to consider as necessities. The hillbilly foregoes the hard grandeur of high buildings and canyon streets in exchange for wooded hills and verdant valleys. In place of creeping traffic he accepts the rippling flow of the wandering stream. He does not hear the snarl of exhaust, the raucous braying of horns, and the sharp, strident babble of many tense voices. For him instead is the measured beat of the katydid, the lonesome, far-off complaining of the whippoorwill, perhaps even the sound of a falling acorn in the infinite peace of the quiet woods. The hillbilly is often not familiar with new models, soirees, and office politics. But he does have the time and surroundings conducive to sober reflection and honest thought, the opportunity to get closer to his God. No, in Southern Missouri the appellation “hillbilly” is not generally an insult or an indignity; it is an expression of envy.”

 

 

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