Yankee: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The term Yankee (sometimes shortened to "Yank"), has a few related meanings, often referring to someone either of general United States origin or, more specifically within the U.S., to people originating from New England, where application of the term is largely restricted to descendants of the English settlers of the region.

The meaning of "Yankee" has varied over time. Originally, it referred to residents of New England of colonial English descent, as used by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). As early as the 1770s, the British often used the term for any American. In the nineteenth century, Southerners used the term to refer to any Northerner who was not a recent immigrant from Europe; thus a visitor to Richmond, Virginia, in 1818 commented, "The enterprising people are mostly strangers; Scotch, Irish, and especially New England men, or Yankees, as they are called."[1]

Outside the country, "Yankee" or "Yank" is a slang term, sometimes but not always derogatory, for any citizen of the United States.

Origins and history of the word

Loyalist newspaper cartoon from Boston 1776 ridicules "Yankie Doodles" militia who have encircled the city

Early usage

The origins of the term are uncertain, although there are many speculative suggestions. In 1758 British General James Wolfe made the earliest recorded use of the word Yankee to refer to Americans, referring to the New England soldiers under his command as Yankees: "I can afford you two companies of Yankees, and the more because they are better for ranging and scouting than either work or vigilance." [2] Later the term as used by the British was often derogatory, as shown by the cartoon from 1775 ridiculing Yankee soldiers.[2] The "Yankee and Pennamite" war was a series of clashes that occurred in 1769 over land titles in Pennsylvania, in which "Yankee" meant the Connecticut claimant. There have been many theories falsly invented including one by a British officer in 1789 who said it derives from the Cherokee word eankke, meaning coward, but there is no such word in the Cherokee language.[3] Native American origin theories are not well received by linguists. One theory suggests the word is a borrowing from the Wendat (called Huron by the French) pronunciation of the French l'anglais (meaning the English), sounded as "Y'an-gee".[citation needed] During the French and Indian War the word would have been widely used among many Native Americans in the British colonies to refer to white settlers in upstate New York, throughout New England, and other areas west of the Hudson Valley. Later arrivals to the region then adopted the term with the pronunciation evolving to "Yankee". [4]

Writing in 1819, the Rev. John Heckewelder stated his belief that the name grew out of the attempts by American Indians to pronounce the word English. The great American novelist James Fenimore Cooper supported this view in his 1841 book Deerslayer.

Dutch origins

New Netherland is to the northwest, New England is to the northeast

Most linguists look to Dutch sources, noting there was a great deal of interaction between the Dutch in New Netherland (New York) and the Yankees of New England. The Dutch first names "Jan" and "Kees" were and still are common. In many instances both names (Jan-Kees) are used as a single first name. The word "Yankee" is a variation that would refer to English settlers moving into previously Dutch areas.[5]

Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks argue[6] that the term refers to the Dutch nickname and surname Janneke (from "Jan" and the diminutive "-eke", meaning "Little John" or Johnny in Dutch), anglicized to Yankee (the "J" is pronounced "Y" in Dutch) and "used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times". By extension, the term grew to include non-Dutch colonists as well.

H.L. Mencken [7] explained the derogatory term "John Cheese" was often used against the early Dutch who were famous for their cheese. An example would be a British soldier commenting on a Dutchman "Here comes a John Cheese". The Dutch pronunciation of John Cheese is "Jan Kees" where the J sounds like Y. The two words naturally sounded like "Yahnkees" and the term was born.

Yankee Doodle

Perhaps the most pervasive influence on the use of the term throughout the years has been the song Yankee Doodle, which was popular at the time of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), since, following the Battle of Concord, it was broadly adopted by Americans and today is the state song of Connecticut.

Canadian usage

An early use of the term outside the United States was in the creation of Sam Slick, the "Yankee Clockmaker", in a column in a newspaper in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1835. The character was a plain-talking U.S. citizen who served to poke fun at Nova Scotian customs of that era, while trying to urge the old-fashioned Canadians to be as clever and hard-working as the Yankees.

Damned Yankee

The "damned Yankee" usage dates from 1812.[2] During and after the American Civil War (1861–1865) Confederates popularized it as a derogatory term for their Northern enemies.

Yankee cultural history

The term Yankee now means residents of New England, and possibly the entire northeastern region. The Yankees diffused widely across the northern United States, leaving their imprint in New York, the upper Midwest, and places as far away as Seattle, San Francisco and Honolulu.[8] Yankees typically lived in villages (rather than separate farms), which fostered local democracy in town meetings; stimulated mutual oversight of moral behavior and emphasized civic virtue. From New England seaports like Boston, Salem, Providence and New London, the Yankees built an international trade, stretching to China by 1800. Much of the merchant profits were reinvested in the textile and machine tools industries.[9]

In religion New England Yankees originally followed the Puritan tradition as expressed in Congregational churches, but after 1750 many became Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists or Unitarians. Straight-laced 17th century moralism as described by novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne faded in the 18th century. The First Great Awakening (under Jonathan Edwards) in the mid-18th century and the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century (under Charles Grandison Finney) emphasized personal piety, revivals, and devotion to civic duty. Theologically Arminianism replaced the original Calvinism. Horace Bushnell introduced the idea of Christian nurture, whereby children would be brought to religion without revivals.

After 1800 the Yankees (along with the Quakers) spearheaded most reform movements, including abolition, temperance, women's rights and women's education. Emma Willard and Mary Lyon pioneered in the higher education of women, while Yankees comprised most of the reformers who went South during Reconstruction in the 1860s to educate the Freedmen.[10]

Politically, the Yankees, who dominated New England, much of upstate New York, and much of the upper Midwest, were the strongest supporters of the new Republican party in the 1860s. This was especially true for the Congregationalists and Presbyterians among them and (after 1860), the Methodists. A study of 65 predominantly Yankee counties showed they voted only 40% for the Whigs in 1848 and 1852, but became 61–65% Republican in presidential elections of 1856 through 1864.[11]

The Ivy League universities and "Little Ivies" liberal arts colleges, particularly Harvard and Yale, remained bastions of old Yankee culture until well after World War II.

President Calvin Coolidge was a striking example of the Yankee type. Coolidge moved from rural Vermont to urban Massachusetts, and was educated at elite Amherst College. Yet his flint-faced unprepossessing ways and terse rural speech proved politically attractive: "That Yankee twang will be worth a hundred thousand votes", explained one Republican leader.[12] Coolidge's laconic ways and dry humor was characteristic of stereotypical rural "Yankee humor" at the turn of the twentieth century.[13]

The fictional character Thurston Howell, III, of Gilligan's Island, a graduate of Harvard University, typifies the old Yankee elite in a comical way.

In the 21st century, systematic Yankee ways had permeated the entire society through education. Although many observers from the 1880s onward predicted that Yankee politicians would be no match for new generations of ethnic politicians, the presence of Yankees at the top tier of politics in the 21st century was typified by Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, and by Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean (as well, to some observers, by 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Forbes Kerry, descendant not only of Eastern European Jewry but, through his mother, of the Scottish Forbes family, which emigrated to Massachusetts the decade before the American Revolution[14]). President Barack Obama is partly of Yankee descent on his mother's side; his high school was Punahou School, founded to serve Yankee missionaries to Hawaii.[15]

Contemporary uses

In the United States

Within the United States, the term Yankee can have many different contextually and geographically-dependent meanings.

Traditionally Yankee was most often used to refer to a New Englander (in which case it may suggest Puritanism and thrifty values)[16]. By the 20th century it was used for anyone non-immigrant coming from a state north of the Mason-Dixon Line, with a specific focus still on New England or New York. However, within New England itself, the term refers more specifically to old-stock New Englanders of English descent. The term WASP, in use since the 1960s, refers by definition to all Protestants of English ancestry, including Yankees and Southerners, though its meaning is often extended to refer to any Protestant white American.

The term "Swamp Yankee" is used in rural Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts to refer to Protestant farmers of moderate means and their descendants (as opposed to upper-class Yankees).[17] Scholars note that the famous Yankee "twang" survives mainly in the hill towns of interior New England.[18] The most characteristic Yankee food was the pie; Yankee author Harriet Beecher Stowe in her novel Oldtown Folks celebrated the social traditions surrounding the Yankee pie.

In the southern U.S., the term is sometimes used as a derisive term for Northerners, especially those who have migrated to the South. The more polite term is "Northerner". In an old joke, a Southerner states, "I was 21 years old before I learned that 'damn' and 'yankee' were separate words." Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas pointed out as late as 1966, "The very word 'Yankee' still wakens in Southern minds historical memories of defeat and humiliation, of the burning of Atlanta and Sherman's march to the sea, or of an ancestral farmhouse burned by Cantrill’s raiders."[19] In Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary 'Yankee' is defined in this manner: "n. In Europe, an American. In the Northern States of our Union, a New Englander. In the Southern States the word is unknown. (See DAMNYANK.)"

A humorous aphorism attributed to E.B. White summarizes these distinctions:

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

Another variant of the aphorism replaces the last line with: "To a Vermonter, a Yankee is somebody who still uses an outhouse." There are several other folk and humorous etymologies for the term.

One of Mark Twain's most famous novels, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court popularized the word as a nickname for residents of Connecticut.

It is also the official team nickname of a Major League Baseball franchise, the New York Yankees.

A film about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was titled The Magnificent Yankee.

A play on that title became the title of a book about the ball club's dynasty: The Magnificent Yankees.

In other English-speaking countries

In English-speaking countries outside the United States, especially in Britain, Australia, Canada[20], Ireland[21], and New Zealand, Yankee, almost universally shortened to Yank, is used as a derogatory, playful or referential colloquial term for Americans.

In certain Commonwealth countries, notably Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, "Yank" has been in common use since at least World War II, when thousands of Americans were stationed in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Depending on the country, "Yankee" may be considered mildly derogatory.[22]

In other parts of the world

In some parts of the world, particularly in Latin American countries, Spain and in East Asia, yankee or yanqui (phonetic Spanish spelling of the same word) is used sometimes politically associated with anti-Americanism and used in expressions such as "Yankee go home" or "we struggle against the yanqui, enemy of mankind" (words from the Sandinista anthem). In Argentina and Paraguay, and other parts of South America, the term refers to someone who is from the US and is rarely derogatory.[citation needed] In Venezuelan Spanish there is the word pitiyanqui, derived ca. 1940 around the Oil Industry from petty yankee, a derogatory term for those who profess an exaggerated and often ridiculous admiration for anything from the United States.

In the late 19th century the Japanese were called "the Yankees of the East" in praise of their industriousness and drive to modernization.[23] In Japan since the late 1970s, the term Yankī has been used to refer to a type of delinquent youth.[24]

In Finland, by some people the word jenkki (yank) is sometimes used to refer to any U.S. citizen, and with the same group of people Jenkkilä (Yankeeland) refers to the United States itself. It isn't considered offensive or anti-U.S., but rather a spoken language expression.[25] However, more commonly a U.S. citizen is simply called amerikkalainen (american) and the country itself simply 'Amerikka'.

The variation, "Yankee Air Pirate" was used during the Vietnam War in North Vietnamese propaganda to refer to the United States Air Force.

In Iceland, the word kani is used for Yankee or Yank in the mildly derogatory sense. When referring to residents of the United States, norðurríkjamaður or more commonly bandaríkjamaður, is used.

In Polish, the word jankes can refer to any U.S. citizen, has little pejorative connotation if at all, and its use is somewhat obscure (it is mainly used to translate the English word yankee in a not strictly formal context, e.g. in a movie about the American Civil War).

In Sweden the word is translated to jänkare. The word is not itself a negative expression, though it can of course be used as such depending on context.

Joshua Slocum, in his 1899 book Sailing Alone Around the World in his small sloop Spray, refers to Nova Scotians as being the only or true Yankees. It thus may be implied, as he himself was a Nova Scotian, that he had pride in his ancestry. "Yankee" in this instance, instead of connoting a form of derision, is therefore a form of praise; perhaps relevant to the hardy seagoing people of the East Coast at that time.

See also


  1. ^ See Mathews, (1951) pp 1896-98 and Oxford English Dictionary, quoting M. Birkbeck
  2. ^ a b c Mathews (1951) p 1896
  3. ^ The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories (1991) p 516
  4. ^ The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories (1991) p 516; Mathews (1951) p. 1896
  5. ^ The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories (1991) p 516-17
  6. ^ Review of Quinion, Michael Port Out, Starboard Home
  7. ^ http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19991201
  8. ^ Mathews (1909), Holbrook (1950)
  9. ^ Knights (1991)
  10. ^ Taylor (1979)
  11. ^ Kleppner p 55
  12. ^ William Allen White, A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938) p. 122.
  13. ^ Arthur George Crandall, New England Joke Lore: The Tonic of Yankee Humor, (F.A. Davis Company, 1922).
  14. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbes_family
  15. ^ Smith (1956)
  16. ^ Bushman, (1967)
  17. ^ Ruth Schell, "Swamp Yankee", American Speech, 1963, Volume 38, No.2 , pg. 121–123. accessed through JSTOR
  18. ^ Fisher, Albion's Seed p 62; Edward Eggleston, The Transit of Civilization from England to the U.S. in the Seventeenth Century. (1901) p. 110; Fleser (1962)
  19. ^ Fulbright's statement of March 7, 1966, quoted in Randall Bennett Woods, "Dixie's Dove: J. William Fulbright, The Vietnam War and the American South," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Aug., 1994), p. 548
  20. ^ J. L. Granatstein, Yankee Go Home: Canadians and Anti-Americanism (1997)
  21. ^ Mary Pat Kelly, Home Away from Home: The Yanks in Ireland (1995)
  22. ^ John F. Turner and Edward F. Hale, eds. Yanks Are Coming: GIs in Britain in WWII (1983), primary documents; ; Eli Daniel Potts, Yanks Down Under, 1941-1945: The American Impact on Australia (1986); Harry Bioletti, The Yanks are coming: The American invasion of New Zealand, 1942-1944 (1989)
  23. ^ William Eleroy Curtis, The Yankees of the East, Sketches of Modern Japan. (New York: 1896).
  24. ^ Daijirin dictionary, Yahoo! Dictionary
  25. ^ . See comments on H-South by Seppo K J Tamminen at

Further reading

  • Beals, Carleton; Our Yankee Heritage: New England's Contribution to American Civilization (1955) online
  • Conforti, Joseph A. Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century (2001) online
  • Bushman, Richard L. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690–1765 (1967)
  • Ellis, David M. "The Yankee Invasion of New York 1783–1850". New York History (1951) 32:1–17.
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989), Yankees comprise one of the four
  • Gjerde; Jon. The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830–1917 (1999) online
  • Gray; Susan E. The Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier (1996) online
  • Handlin, Oscar. "Yankees", in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. by Stephan Thernstrom, (1980) pp 1028–1030.
  • Hill, Ralph Nading. Yankee Kingdom: Vermont and New Hampshire. (1960).
  • Holbrook, Stewart H. Yankee Exodus: An Account of Migration from New England (1950)
  • Holbrook, Stewart H.; Yankee Loggers: A Recollection of Woodsmen, Cooks, and River Drivers (1961)
  • Hudson, John C. "Yankeeland in the Middle West", Journal of Geography 85 (Sept 1986)
  • Jensen, Richard. "Yankees" in Encyclopedia of Chicago (2005).
  • Kleppner; Paul. The Third Electoral System 1853–1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures University of North Carolina Press. 1979, on Yankee voting behavior
  • Knights, Peter R.; Yankee Destinies: The Lives of Ordinary Nineteenth-Century Bostonians (1991) online
  • Mathews, Lois K. The Expansion of New England (1909).
  • Piersen, William Dillon. Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (1988)
  • Power, Richard Lyle. Planting Corn Belt Culture (1953), on Indiana
  • Rose, Gregory. "Yankees/Yorkers", in Richard Sisson ed, The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (2006) 193–95, 714–5, 1094, 1194,
  • Sedgwick, Ellery; The Atlantic Monthly, 1857–1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb (1994) online
  • Smith, Bradford. Yankees in Paradise: The New England Impact on Hawaii (1956)
  • Taylor, William R. Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character (1979)
  • WPA. Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration of Massachusetts (1937).


  • Davis, Harold. "On the Origin of Yankee Doodle", American Speech, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1938), pp. 93–96 in JSTOR
  • Fleser, Arthur F. "Coolidge's Delivery: Everybody Liked It." Southern Speech Journal 1966 32(2): 98–104. Issn: 0038-4585
  • Kretzschmar, William A. Handbook of the Linguistic Atlas of the Middle and South Atlantic States (1994)
  • Lemay, J. A. Leo "The American Origins of Yankee Doodle", William and Mary Quarterly 33 (Jan 1976) 435–64 in JSTOR
  • Logemay, Butsee H. "The Etymology of 'Yankee'", Studies in English Philology in Honor of Frederick Klaeber, (1929) pp 403–13.
  • Mathews, Mitford M. A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951) pp 1896 ff for elaborate detail
  • Mencken, H. L. The American Language (1919, 1921)
  • The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories (1991)
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Schell, Ruth. "Swamp Yankee", American Speech, 1963, Volume 38, No.2 pg. 121–123. in JSTOR
  • Sonneck, Oscar G. Report on "the Star-Spangled Banner" "Hail Columbia" "America" "Yankee Doodle" (1909) pp 83ff online
  • Stollznow, Karen. 2006. "Key Words in the Discourse of Discrimination: A Semantic Analysis. PhD Dissertation: University of New England., Chapter 5.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

YANKEE, the slang or colloquial name given to a citizen of the New England states in America, and less correctly applied, in familiar European usage, to any citizen of the United States. It was used by the British soldiers of their opponents during the War of Independence, and during the Civil War by the Confederates of the Federal troops and by the South of the North generally. The origin of the name has given rise to much speculation. In Dr William Gordon's History of the American War (ed. 1789, i. 324) it is said to have been a cant word at Cambridge, Mass., as early as 1713, where it was used to express excellency, and he quotes such expressions as "a Yankee good horse." Webster gives the earliest recorded use of its accepted meaning, from Oppression, a Poem by an American (Boston, 1765), "From meanness first this Portsmouth Yankee rose," and states that it is considered to represent the Indian pronunciation of "English" or Anglais, and was applied by the Massachusetts Indians to the English colonists. On the other hand, the Scots "yankie," sharp or clever, would seem more probable as the origin of the sense represented in the Cambridge expression. Other suggestions give a Dutch origin to the name. Thus it may be a corruption of "Jankin," diminutive of "Jan," John, and applied as a nickname to the English of Connecticut by the Dutch of New York. Skeat (Etym. Did., 1910) quotes a Dutch captain's name, Yanky, from Dampier's Voyages (ed. 1699, i.. 38), and accepts the theory that "Yankee" was formed from Jan, John, and Kees, a familiar diminutive of Cornelius (H. Logeman, Notes and Queries, 10th series, iv. 509, V. 15).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has articles on:





1683, a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in Nieuw Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. It may be from Du. Janke, lit. "Little John," dim. of common personal name Jan; or it may be from Jan Kees familiar form of "Johan Cornelius," or perhaps an alt. of Jan Kees, dial. variant of Jan Kaas, lit. "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen. It originally seems to have been applied insultingly to Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English. In Eng. a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for "native of New England" (1765). Shortened form Yank in reference to "an American" first recorded 1778.





Yankee (plural Yankees)

  1. A native or inhabitant of New England.
  2. A native or inhabitant of the Northern USA.
  3. A native or inhabitant of the USA.
  4. The letter Y in the ICAO spelling alphabet.
  5. (nautical) A large triangular headsail used in light or moderate winds and set on the fore topmast stay. Unlike a genoa it does not fill the whole fore triangle, but is set in combination with the working staysail.
  6. (baseball) A player that plays for the New York Yankees.

Derived terms


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See also

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