So whence comes the term “Yankee” … ? That’s a bit murky. (Picture source)
The Online Etymology Dictionary roots “Yankee” in 1683 as “a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut.” It also suggests that “Yankee” may have come from Jankee (“Little John or Little Jan“) or Jan Kees (“John Cornelius”) or Jan Kees, a variant of Jan Kaas, literally “John Cheese,” the generic nickname the people who spoke Flemish used for those who spoke Dutch.
The dictionary posits “Yankee” was originally “applied insultingly to the Dutch, especially freebooters [pirate], before they turned around and slapped it on the English. … In English a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for ‘native of New England’ (1765); during the American Revolution it became a disparaging British word for all American native or inhabitants. Shortened form Yank in reference to ‘an American’ first recorded 1778.”
From An Etymology Dictionary of the English Language (Walter W. Skeat, 1893) on 20kWEB we learn:
Dr. Wm. Gordon, in his Hist. of the American War, ed. 1789, vol. i. pp. 324, 325, says it was a favourite cant word in Cambridge, Mass., as early as 1713, and that it meant “excellent;” as, a yankee good horse, yankee good cider, &c. He supposes that it was adopted by the students there as a by-word, and, being carried by them from the college, obtained currency in the other New England colonies, until at length it was taken up in other parts of the country, and applied to New Englanders generally as a term of slight reproach.’ [emphasis mine; “cant” is a very old term for “slang”]
Current usage, according to the Urban Dictionary (one of my favorites): “Yankee” … (my comments in bold) …
- is a derogatory term used to describe Americans by the British, Canadians, Australians and the like [would this include New Zealand?]
- in the USA is used to define an American from the Northern States, such as New England and the Mid-West. I’d add the West too?
- was most notably used to describe to the federal [Union] soldiers and other [all] Northerners by the Confederates (Southerners) during the U.S. Civil War (1861-65).
Further (also from the Urban Dictionary):
- The characteristics often associated with a stereotypical Yankee are shrewdness, thrift, craftiness, rudeness, arrogance, and loudness.
- To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
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.
The last line refers back to a farm tradition when people who, by 7 a.m., had already been up for several hours milking cows. See blog Inside Story‘s Andrea Chesman: Pie for Breakfast.”
And, of course, to Americans, “to doodle” now means to (1) scribble/draw absentmindedly, and/or (2) kill (waste) time. Does it mean something different to people who speak the English of the U.K., New Zealand or Australia (aka English English)? 🙂