The Etymology of Joe Sixpack

Amanda - Houston, Texas
Entered on October 9, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin’s catch phrases are the subject of almost as much debate as the energy crisis and credit crunch. Turn on any news channel, thumb through TIME, Newsweek, even US Weekly and there are numerous “you betcha” and “heck” and “pitbull” sound bites from the Alaskan Governor. In several interviews and last week’s Vice Presidential Debate, Palin made it clear that she wants to pick up the tab for the “Joe Sixpacks” of America. Much speculation (and much satire) has arisen about the etymology of the moniker.

As a writer, to quote Anne Sexton, “my business is words.” It’s no surprise, then, that I had a strong desire to investigate the etymology and connotation of Palin’s now infamous “Joe Sixpack.” On the blogosphere, I encountered questions such as “does he have a six-pack? Does he drink a six pack? What?” and found myself wondering the same.

Joe Sixpack is a derivative of “John Q. Public,” “John Q. Taxpayer,” and “John Q. Citizen.” At a glance, Joe Sixpack would appear to be on par with names given to represent the average citizen, which would thus mean that Palin is speaking directly to citizens all across the board. However, how “average” or “middle of the road” is Joe Sixpack? I was surprised to learn that Joe Sixpack is not “average” as she would have individuals believe. In fact, the Joe Sixpack is a pejorative term implying a lower-class, uneducated citizen. Further, according to Wikipedia, Joe Sixpack is on par with the other generic pejorative, “Joe Schmoe,” which comes from the Yiddish meaning “simpleton.”

Palin’s use of Joe Sixpack should not be taken as another one of the Governor’s “shout outs” to the “common man,” but instead as an insult to not only blue collar workers, many of which I grew up around, but also to those who might feel that Palin speaks to the public from a place of recognition. True, Palin, according to an October 2008 article from New York Daily news, “the former beauty queen and one-time sports reporter set up a consulting firm called Rouge Cou – French for “redneck” – but didn’t do anything with it. The Palins also hooked up with an Anchorage couple to start a car wash that never got built,” but that doesn’t mean that just because Palin can pop open a PBR and kick up her heels that she’s anymore like a steel worker or a welder or any number of hardworking “Sixpacks” across America.

When Palin claims that if she and John McCain win, they will “put government back on the side of the people of Joe Sixpack like me,” it is important to consider the terminology used. Is Palin claiming that her version of Joe Sixpack includes a net worth of $1.2 million or is she suggesting that she is, as the definition of the phrase would indicate, a lower-class, uneducated simpleton? “It’s time that normal Joe Sixpack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency,” Palin recently told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. The question is are we as a country willing to invite either a “simpleton” or a person badly schooled in the English language into the White House in less than four weeks? I may occasionally like a cold beer over a merlot and I always will have an affinity for chicken fried steak, but as an educated citizen, a lover of words, and someone who shivers with glee when one of her students actually writes in correct grammar, Palin is the maverick, or, if you want one last synonym, the “odd one out.”