There are roughly 3,000+ words created and added to our language system. Words and terms fall off and out of the English language each day. However, there are some which survive through centuries, and the meaning of the word changes throughout the times.
We call this Etymology. Take the word “Cracker” for instance. Looking at its etymology, we can see where this word comes from, and how it’s associated with the meaning we all know today. Keeping that meaning in mind, let’s learn what we don’t know.
Believe it or not, this word can be traced back before the 16th Century Shakespeare, “craker” meaning “boaster or bragger” which was used to describe the Celtic or Irish. It’s when these people begin settling the new world in the 18th Century, this word was brought over, and the meaning changes to “poor settler of the rural South”.
The people who began settling in Florida, in and around Marion County, were known as “Cracker Cowboys,” because they had to use whips to drive their cattle. The whip would make a “cracking” noise as they were rounding them up. This word was even applied to the cattle found in Florida. If you want to learn more about Crackers in Florida, the book entitled, Cracker: Cracker Culture in Florida History by Dana M. Ste. Claire, a leading historian on Cracker history.
Reflecting on what we now know about this word, it makes sense. People, regardless of race, of the the southern United States are quite proud of their southern roots and heritage. In fact, in the early 20th century, we see this word used describing anyone living in the South.
In Atlanta, GA, the segregated baseball teams were called the Atlanta Crackers (1901-1965) and the Atlanta Black Crackers (1919-1952). It gives us insight how this word was applicable to all people living in the south at one point in time. It’s not until the 1950s, we see the word become a slur meaning, “usually illiterate smart mouth white people (men).” This is what we are familiar with today.