Addendum to Yesterday’s Post: Yankee Doodle

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)? 🙂


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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7 Responses to Addendum to Yesterday’s Post: Yankee Doodle

  1. I’m from Virginia and I’ve been called a Yankee by people who consider themselves “true” Southerners – I think some people just like to exclude others.


  2. I think you’re right – the Yankees are the north-easteneres and probably midwest too. But in my experience Southerners tend to call anyone not a Southerner a Yankee (excepting Texans, of course!). But that’s just my experience. Maybe they just didn’t like me and so were trying to insult me? 🙂


  3. I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life and somehow never knew people call those out west Yankees too! I always think of The North as coastal states (Pennsylvania and up, basically), and Yankees as northern. I guess that comes from living in a coastal state myself.


  4. Thank you. I am honored. I will look up the requirements later this week. 🙂


  5. I think Americans are okay with being called “Yanks.” Southerners (from states south of the old “Mason-Dixie line”) still call inhabitants of the north midwest “Yankees.” Texans are in a class all their own; folks in Arizona and New Mexico live in the “southwest,” while people in California, Oregon and Washington (the “left coast” of the US) are westerners (though a southerner will still call them Yankees). 🙂


  6. The first meaning of doodle is how I know and use that word! The other is also shortened to Yanks (usually the Yanks) as a nickname for the Americans (that one perhaps is even more derogatory in context!). 🙂


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