The epithet cracker has been applied in a derogatory way, like redneck, to rural, non-elite white southerners, more specifically to those of south Georgia and north Florida. Folk etymology claims the term originated either from their cracking, or pounding, of corn (rather than taking it to mill), or from their use of whips to drive cattle. The latter explanation makes sense, because in piney-woods Georgia and Florida pastoral yeomen did use bullwhips with “cracker” tips to herd cattle.
The true history of the name, however, is more involved and shows a shift in application over time. Linguists now believe the original root to be the Gaelic craic, still used in Ireland (anglicized in spelling to crack) for “entertaining conversation.” The English meaning of cracker as a braggart appears by Elizabethan times, as, for example, in Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “What cracker is this . . . that deafes our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?”
By the 1760s the English, both at home and in colonial America, were applying the term to Scots-Irish settlers of the southern backcountry, as in this passage from a letter to the earl of Dartmouth: “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.” The word then came to be associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of them descendants of those early frontiersmen.
Among African Americans cracker became a contemptuous term for a white southerner; among some southern whites it has become a label of ethnic and regional pride, boosted by the election of south Georgian Jimmy Carter to the presidency in 1976. This led to the coining of the word crackertude as a not entirely serious answer to negritude.