- For other uses, see Yankee (disambiguation).
The term Yankee has a variety of meanings. Generally, it refers to Americans, particularly those Americans from the Northeastern part of the United States of America.
The origin of the term is disputed. Widely held theories claim that it originated from the Dutch in old New Amsterdam (today known as New York) in the Mid-Atlantic States. It then was adopted by the British as a pejorative for (Northern) colonists. The origin was likely to be either the phrase Jan Kees meaning "John Cheese", a generic insult of the Dutch, or Janke, the diminutive form of the name Jan.
Another theory (deprecated by most authorities) holds that it originated among a group Indians on the eastern seaboard of North America. They were unable to pronounce the word "English", rendering it as "yengis" or "yengeese". This later became simplified to "Yankees". This theory is not widely held, since convincing records of the tribe and their mispronunciation of English have not been produced. There are several other folk and humorous etymologies for the word.
One 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 War for Independence. Though the song was intend to insult colonials, following the Battle of Concord, it was adopted by Americans as a prideful retort.
An early use of the term outside the U.S., was in the creation of Sam Slick, the "Yankee Clockmaker" in a column in a newspaper in Halifax, Canada in 1835. The character was a plain-talking American who served to mock both Canadian and American customs of that era. The stories were published in a book titled The Clockmaker, in 1836. The book was popular in Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
The American Civil War
The use of the term was highly significant in the context of the American Civil War. It was used to refer to the soldiers and residents of the northern United States including the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and New England states. The term also referred to other border-states and African-American troops who fought for the Union.
In the United States
Within the United States, the term Yankee can have a number of different contextually and geographically dependent meanings.
Today Yankee is most often used to refer to a New Englander (in which case it may denote New England puritan and thrifty values). It can be used in this way by Americans in any part of the country. In the American South it is still used as a derisive term for persons from any state north of the Mason-Dixon Line. (See also carpetbagger.) Thus, in either case the principal use of the term in the U.S. is as a means of distinguishing a group from those from living further south (i.e., in the southeastern states).
Since beginning of the 20th Century, the term has also been used by Americans to refer to the New York Yankees baseball team.
In other parts of the world
Outside the United States, Yankee, often shortened to Yank, is used as a colloquial term for American. The words are sometimes spelled with a lowercase initial, yankee and yank. In some parts of the world, particularly in Latin America and East Asia, yankee or yanqui is meant as an insult and is politically associated with anti-Americanism and used in expressions such as "Yankee go home." Finally, citizens of other countries, including the British during the World Wars, referred to all Americans as Yanks.
Then who, really, is a Yankee?
- To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
- To Americans, 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.
- —(an old definition)
It is used by people from other countries as slang to mean Americans, both as a term of endearment and as an insult. Hence, the term has had various positive, negative, contextual and regional associations over the years, as books, media, troops, teams, and peoples have used it differently for different purposes.
- Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Yankee)
- American Heritage Dictionary (http://www.bartleby.com/61/60/Y0006000.html)
- Wordorigins.org (http://www.wordorigins.org/wordory.htm)
- Word of the Day (http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19991201)