Hillbilly Slang

Updated August 26, 2014
man using hillbilly slang in the backwoods
    man using hillbilly slang in the backwoods
    Jamie Carroll / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Hearing hillbilly slang punctuating a sentence might be a good way to make people giggle, but tread carefully using this language in your writing. Not everyone knows what a hillbilly is, so some might not get the context of the nonstandard terminology that you’re using. The term hillbilly, a word many backwoods residents embrace to describe themselves, isn't the put-down it's implied to be.

Hillbilly Slang Curse Words

Creative curse words are a familiar aspect of hillbilly culture, with some terms and sayings that are much more interesting than more traditional expletives.

  • dagnabit or goldurnit - substitute curse words that are thinly veiled alternatives to keep from taking the name of the Lord in vain by using an off-limits term like g*d**
  • gumption - Scottish word of unknown origin; means resourcefulness and enterprise; a favorite word in hillbilly culture and an apt description of how the hillbilly seems to function in his native habitat
  • tarnation - a euphemism prevalent among hillbillies to demonstrate anger; a substitute for a word such as damnation, one a good hillbilly will avoid since it seems to be a curse word in their neck of the woods

Puttin' On the Hillbilly Feedbag

One thing hillbillies know how to do is whip up tasty, down-home dishes using simple ingredients. When hillbillies get hungry, they just might seek out some vittles, like sliced ‘maters and mashed ‘taters. Yummy!

  • greens - any kind of cooked green leafy vegetables (turnip greens or collard greens for example); typically seasoned with some kind of pork, vinegar and sugar
  • hawngree - hungry with a hillbilly drawl
  • icebox - refrigerator
  • vittles - all kinds of food
  • ‘maters - tomatoes
  • sweet milk - regular cow’s milk; this indicates that the milk is not buttermilk
  • ‘taters - potatoes
bowl of southern-style-greens
    bowl of southern-style-greens
    Paul_Brighton / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Hillbilly Talk for Directions and Locations

Have you ever asked for directions in a really rural area? You probably didn’t receive specific instructions. Hillbillies are excellent at coming up with unusual and interesting ways to describe distances.

  • up yonder a ways - you’re on the right track, but I’m not sure how far
  • down the road apiece - keep going, you’ll get there eventually
  • as the crow flies - if you traveled in a straight line rather than following a road
  • down by the crick (creek) - near flowing water

Everyday Hillbilly Sayings

Phrases that have nothing to do with the meanings of individual words are a big part of hillbilly slang. It includes several phrases for everyday actions or items.

  • git ‘er done - to finish or accomplish something
  • fixing to - about to do something
  • lick and a promise - to patch something up; to do something quickly rather than doing it well
  • not right in the head - something’s wrong about how a person thinks; a person believed to be addled or unstable in some way
  • sittin’ on your high horse - a person who is looking down on other people
  • the man upstairs - God
  • too big for your britches - someone who seems to think they’re better than they are

Individual Hillbilly Words

Of course, not all hillbilly talk involves full sayings. It definitely includes some unique twists on individual terms.

  • kin - someone who is related by blood
  • kinfolk - plural of kin (these are my kinfolk)
  • addled - confused, mixed up
  • britches - pants
  • buggy - a shopping cart, like what you use at a grocery store, likely the Piggly Wiggly (aka The Pig)
  • drick - flowing water that’s not wide enough to be considered a river
  • dreckly - translates to directly, but means soon (I’ll be there dreckly.)
  • fix - make, in reference to food or beverage (I’m gonna fix me some food.)

Defining Hillbillies

The word hillbilly was first used in print (with a different spelling) at the turn of the twentieth century in a New York Journal article by political correspondent Julian Hawthorne, who was entranced by the word. His work described a "hill-billie" as:

"A free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."

Hawthorne’s article might have been the first time that a yankee publication in New York published an article about hillbillies, but the word, culture and corresponding slang existed long before he decided to tell the tale.

Origin of "Hillbilly"

The term hillbilly has long been used to describe people who dwell in rural mountainous or hilly regions of the United States, especially in and around the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains of the southeastern region of the country.

  • In American culture, the term has come to be used to describe people who live in rural areas where poverty is rampant and the population is not highly educated.
  • The actual word hillbilly may have been devised from the combination of the phrase paired with the Scottish word billies, which means “a fine fellow.”

The stereotype of hillbillies as being poor and socially backward might have elicited snickers among people in other regions (who naturally thought themselves of a higher social class than those backwoods hill dwelling hicks), but hillbillies were also noted for their independence and self-reliance. They just didn't seem to know they were supposed to be pathetic! They rejected that attitude along with the attempts of the city folk to reform them. Spoken like a true hillbilly, you got to admire their gumption!


A Hillbilly Ain't a Redneck!

Hillbilly doesn’t mean the same thing as a redneck. People tend to confuse hillbillies with rednecks, and although there can be some overlap (some hillbillies are rednecks and some rednecks are hillbillies, but a person doesn’t necessarily identify as both), both groups tend to correct you very quickly if you make the mistake of assuming they're all alike.

  • Rednecks (named supposedly for the "red neck" that comes from the sunburn of working out of one's truck farm) are usually southerners, although they can be found up north and in other regions as well. They tend to be hard working and hard drinking. They tend to like NASCAR and beer, shooting the breeze (or shooting guns), and they're just plain old "good ol' boys." Redneck slang is its own thing.
  • Hillbillies might lack the ways of "city folk," but they are merely a folk group who tends to live in the Appalachians, Ozarks, or other rural hilly or mountainous areas of the United States. They retain the ways of their ancestors. They’re tough and hard working, but tend to be poorer than the average American.

Regional Pride

Hillbillies are strong and individualistic, and have a good deal of pride. Throughout history, social workers who thought they'd help the mountain people often found themselves chased out of their cabins at the point of a shotgun. The social workers learned a very quick and valuable lesson: just because you're poor and live in a rural area, it doesn't mean you don't have a great deal of pride. It’s not unusual for rural slang to develop. If you’re interested in learning more about terminology specific to particular geographic areas, spend some time exploring Canadian slang by region.