yankee corn


The term Yankee, sometimes abbreviated to Yank, has a few related meanings, often referring to someone of U.S. origin or heritage. Within the United States its meaning has varied over time. Originally the term referred to residents of New England as used by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. During and after the American Civil War its meaning expanded to include any Northerner or resident of the states formerly on the Union side of the war, and included anyone from the Northeast (New England, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Great Lakes states). After the Civil War the term gradually reverted to its earlier meaning of New Englander , although Southerners sometimes continue to use the extended meaning.

Outside the United States, Yank or Yankee is a slang term, sometimes derogatory, for any US citizen.

Origins and history of the word

The origins of the term are uncertain, although there are many speculative suggestions.

Johnathan Hastings of Cambridge, Massachusetts was attributed around 1713 to regularly using the word as a superlative, generally in the sense of excellent.

In 1758 British General James Wolfe referred to the New England soldiers under his command as Yankees: "I can afford you two companies of Yankees." Later the term as used by the British was often derogatory, as shown by the cartoon from 1775 ridiculing Yankee soldiers. The "Yankee and Pennamite" war was a series of clashes over land titles in Pennsylvania, 1769, in which "Yankee" meant the Connecticut claimants.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that one of the earliest theories on the word derivation is from the Cherokee word "eankke" for coward as applied to the residents of New England. Also, as the Northeastern United States Native American approximation of the words English and Anglais. One school of thought is that the word is a borrowing from the Wendat [called Huron by the French] pronunciation of the French word for "English," Anglais, or specifically "L'anglais," sounded as "Y'an-gee." During the French and Indian War the word would have been widely used among many Native Americans in the U.S. for 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." It has been rejected by some linguists.

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the most plausible origin is that the word is derived from the Dutch first names "Jan" and "Kees". "Jan" and "Kees" were and still are common Dutch first names, and also common Dutch given names or nicknames. In many instances both names (Jan-Kees) are also used as a single first name in the Netherlands. The word Yankee in this sense would be used as a form of contempt, applied derisively to Dutch or English settlers in the New England states. Another speculation suggests the Dutch form was Jan Kaas, "John Cheese", from the prevalence of dairy-farming among the Dutch, but this seems far-fetched. More realistically, Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks arguethe term refers to the Dutch nickname and surname Janke, anglicized to Yanke and "used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking U.S. citizen in colonial times". By extension, according to their theory, the term grew to include non-Dutch U.S. colonists as well.

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 Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Following the Battle of Concord, it was broadly adopted by U.S. people and today is the state song of Connecticut.

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 U.S. and Nova Scotian customs of that era, while trying to urge the old-fashioned Canadians to be as clever and hard-working as the Yankees.

The "damned Yankee" usage dates from 1812. 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 north east US), of English ancestry, although that was not the original definition. (See origin of the term above). 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. 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.

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. Strait-laced 17th century moralism 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 Lyons 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.

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.

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 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. Coolidge's laconic ways and dry humor was characteristic of stereotypical rural "Yankee humor" at the turn of the twentieth century.

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 the 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, Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Forbes Kerry, scion of the old colonial Forbes family.

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), but today refers to anyone coming from a state north of the Potomac River, with a specific focus still on New England. 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 U.S. citizen.

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). Scholars note that the famous Yankee "twang" survives mainly in the hill towns of interior New England. 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 Southern United States, the term is sometimes used as a derisive term for Northerners, especially those who have migrated to the South. 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.

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, ironically, the official team nickname of a Major League Baseball franchise, the New York Yankees. This is ironic because in much of New England (most notably in Massachusetts and the states directly north), the New York Yankees are hated as the traditional rival of the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees name originated from sportswriters looking for synonyms for "U.S. citizens", the club being a member of the American League.

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 Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Britain, Yankee, almost universally shortened to Yank, is used as a derogatory, playful or referential colloquial term for the U.S. citizens.

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 U.S. citizens were stationed in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Depending on the country, "Yankee" may be considered mildly derogatory.

The term has evolved, through the use of Cockney Rhyming Slang, to the word "Septic Tank", or just "Septic". This slang form is heard in Australia, as well. (Yankee - Yank - Septic Tank - Septic - Seppo) in Australia.

In other parts of the world

In some parts of the world, particularly in Latin American countries, and in East Asia, yankee or yanqui (phonetic Spanish spelling of the same word) is used sometimes politically associated with anti-US sentiment and used in expressions such as "Yankee go home" or "we struggle against the yanqui, enemy of mankind" (words from the Sandinista anthem). Hugo Chavez made up a term including this word, "pitiyanqui", which means literally "small yankee" to derogatorily refer to the United States.

In Argentina and Paraguay, however, the term refers to someone who is from the US and is not usually derogatory.

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

In Finland, the word jenkki (yank) is commonly used to refer to any U.S. citizen, and Jenkkilä (Yankeeland) refers to the United States itself. It isn't considered very offensive or anti-U.S., but rather a spoken language expression.

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 USA, 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).

See also


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
  • Oscar Handlin, "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).
  • Mencken, H. L. The American Language (1919, 1921)
  • 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).


  • Butsee H. Logemay, "The Etymology of 'Yankee'", Studies in English Philology in Honor of Frederick Klaeber, (1929) pp 403–13.
  • Fleser, Arthur F. "Coolidge's Delivery: Everybody Liked It." Southern Speech Journal 1966 32(2): 98–104. Issn: 0038-4585
  • Harold Davis. "On the Origin of Yankee Doodle", American Speech, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1938), pp. 93–96 in JSTOR
  • 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
  • Mathews, Mitford M. A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951) pp 1896 ff for elaborate detail
  • Ruth Schell, "Swamp Yankee", American Speech, 1963, Volume 38, No.2 (The American Dialect Society, Published by Duke University Press ), pg. 121–123. accessed through JSTOR
  • Oscar G. Sonneck. 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.

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