Cracker (pejorative)

Cracker, sometimes white cracker, is a pejorative term for white people.[1] It is an ethnic slur that is especially used for the white inhabitants of the U.S. states of Georgia and Florida (Georgia crackers and Florida crackers), but it is also used throughout the United States.



One theory holds that the term comes from the common diet of poor whites. According to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it is a term of contempt for the "poor" or "mean whites," particularly of the U.S. states of Georgia and Florida (see Georgia cracker and Florida cracker). Britannica notes that the term dates back to the American Revolution, and is derived from the cracked corn from which cornmeal and grits, which formed their staple food, are made, as well as corn whiskey.[2] (In British English "mean" is also a term for tightfistedness.[3])

Yet another theory[citation needed] is that the term derives from an Elizabethan word used to describe braggarts. The original root of this is the Middle English word crack meaning "entertaining conversation" (one may be said to "crack" a joke); this term and the Gaelic spelling craic are still in use in Ireland. It is documented in Shakespeare's King John (1595): "What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?"

The term Cracker was also given to the farm hands that would work on the plantations as slave drivers. They would put a short length of twisted twine or string attached to the end of a whip to produce a cracking sound. The plantation owners as well as the slaves began to refer to them as the Crackers.[citation needed]

Examples of historical usage

Historically the word suggested poor, white rural Americans with little formal education. Historians point out the term originally referred to the strong English and Scots-Irish farmers of the back country (as opposed to the wealthy planters of the seacoast). Thus a sociologist reported in 1913: "As the plantations expanded these freed men (formerly bond servants) were pushed further and further back upon the more and more sterile soil. They became 'pinelanders', 'corn-crackers', or 'crackers'."[4]

As early as the 1760s, this term was in use by the upper class planters in the British North American colonies to refer to Scots-Irish and English settlers in the south, the vast majority of whom were descendants of English bond servants. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth reads:

I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.

A similar usage was that of Charles Darwin in his introduction to The Origin of Species, to refer to "Virginia squatters" (illegal settlers).[5]

Georgia Cracker label depicting a boy with peaches

Frederick Law Olmsted, a prominent landscape architect from Connecticut, visited the South as a journalist in the 1850s and wrote that "some crackers owned a good many Negroes, and were by no means so poor as their appearance indicated."[6]

In 1947, the student body of Florida State University voted for the name of their current athletic symbol of "Seminoles," out of more than 100 choices. The other finalists, in order of finish, were Statesmen, Rebels, Tarpons, Fighting Warriors, and Crackers.[7][8]

Crackin' Good Snacks (a division of Winn-Dixie, a Southern grocery chain) has sold crackers similar to Ritz crackers under the name "Georgia Crackers". They sometimes were packaged in a red tin with a picture of The Crescent, an antebellum plantation house in Valdosta, Georgia.

"Cracker" has also been used as a proud or jocular self-description. With the huge influx of new residents from the North, "cracker" is used informally by some white residents of Florida and Georgia ("Florida cracker" or "Georgia cracker") to indicate that their family has lived there for many generations. However, the term "white cracker" is not always used self-referentially and remains a slur to many in the region.[9]

Before the Milwaukee Braves baseball team moved to Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta minor league baseball team was known as the "Atlanta Crackers". The team existed under this name from 1901 until 1965. They were members of the Southern Association from their inception until 1961, and members of the International League from 1961 until they were moved to Richmond, Virginia in 1965. However, it is suggested the name was derived from players "cracking" the baseball bat and this origin makes sense  when considering the Atlanta Negro League Baseball team was known as the "Atlanta Black Crackers".

The Florida Cracker Trail is a route which cuts across southern Florida, following the historic trail of the old cattle drives.

Examples of political usage

Singer-songwriter Randy Newman, on his socio-politically themed album Good Old Boys (1974) uses the term "cracker" on the song "Kingfish" ("I'm a cracker, You one too, Gonna take good care of you"). The song's subject is Huey Long, populist Governor and then Senator for Louisiana (1928–35). The term is also used in "Louisiana 1927" from the same album, where the line "Ain't it a shame what the river has done to this poor cracker's land" is attributed to President Coolidge.

In 2008, former President Bill Clinton used the term "cracker" on Larry King Live to describe white voters he was attempting to win over for Barack Obama: "You know, they think that because of who I am and where my politic[al] base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the 'cracker vote' there."[10]

See also


  1. ^ Cracker Definition from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
  2. ^ "Cracker - LoveToKnow 1911". 2006-08-25. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  3. ^ "Definition of mean adjective (NOT GENEROUS) from Cambridge Dictionary Online: Free English Dictionary and Thesaurus". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  4. ^ Kephart, Horace (1913). Our Southern Highlanders: A Narrative of Adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a Study of Life Among the Mountaineers. Big Sky Publishers. 
  5. ^ "darwin's origin chapter 1". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  6. ^ Olmsted, Frederick Law (1856). Our Slave States. Dix & Edwards. p. 454. 
  7. ^ "FSU Adopts Seminoles as the Nickname for Athletic Teams". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  9. ^ "Project 21 Release: Black Network Suggests Apology from Rainbow Coalition After Official Calls NASCAR Fans "Cracker" and "Redneck"". 2003-07-09. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  10. ^ Smith, Ben (2008-09-24). "Bill Clinton: Will respect Jewish holidays, then 'hustle up ... cracker vote' in Florida - Ben Smith". Politico.Com. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 

Further reading

  • Brown, Roger Lyle. Ghost Dancing on the Cracker Circuit: The Culture Festivals in the American South (1997)
  • Burke, Karanja. "Cracker"
  • Croom, Adam M. "Slurs." Language Sciences 33 (May 2011): 343-358.
  • Cassidy, Frederic G. Dictionary of American Regional English. Harvard University Press, Vol. I, 1985: 825-26
  • De Graffenried, Clare. "The Georgia Cracker in the Cotton Mills." Century 41 (February 1891): 483—98.
  • George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams. Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives: The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams edited by James M Denham and Canter Brown. U of South Carolina Press 2000/
  • Grady McWhiney, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988).
  • Grady McWhiney. Confederate Crackers and Cavaliers. (Abilene, Tex.: McWhiney Foundation Press, c. 2002. Pp. 312. ISBN 1-893114-27-9, collected essays
  • John Solomon Otto, "Cracker: The History of a Southeastern Ethnic, Economic, and Racial Epithet," Names' 35 (1987): 28-39.
  • Frank L. Owsley. Plain Folk of the Old South (1949)
  • Delma E. Presley, "The Crackers of Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 60 (summer 1976): 102-16.

Major, Clarence (1994). Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang. Puffin Books.

External links

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