Outside the United States, Yank or Yankee is a slang term, sometimes derogatory, for any US citizen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 play on that title became the title of a book about the ball club's dynasty: The Magnificent Yankees.
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 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.
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).