Happy Independence Day, to all my American readers! I hope everyone has a day of fun planned. =) In honor of the day, I thought I’d revisit a Word of the Week post that I first published in 2015…but I had totally forgotten ever looking this one up, so I figure some of you likely had too, LOL.
We all probably know some of the history. That people around the world often use the word to refer to Americans in general–or the shortened version of “Yank.” We know that the South called the Northerners Yankees during the Civil War. We know that the British called the Americans Yankees during the Revolution. We all learned how to sing “Yankee Doodle” in primary school.
Well, that’s a good question. I didn’t have the answer to that one off the top of my head, so I popped over to my beloved www.EtymOnline.com.
According to them, the word was first applied disparagingly to the Dutch. There are a couple guesses as to which Dutch words it imitates, though “John” (Jan, pronounced Yan) is obviously a part of it. It’s the “kees” part that we’re not entirely sure of. It might be from “Janke,” which means “Little John” or it might be “John Cornelius” or “John Cheese.” (Naming people John + Food being a typical way to refer to a common bloke at the time.)
Yankee started appearing in the late 1600s, and the New Amsterdam Dutch were quick to turn around and slap the word on their neighboring English colonists in Connecticut. It was a disparaging word for them, and one the British adopted to apply to Americans in general during the time of the Revolution.
Of course, Americans being what we’ve always been, those Yankees decided they’d take the word and embrace it. They were proud to be Yankees, thank you very much. And the word was shortened to “Yank” by 1778. The Northern/Southern distinction didn’t come about until about 1828. Some etymologists claim one would only ever use the word to refer to someone from the north of them, but that doesn’t exactly track with the across-the-pond version. 😉
Regardless of whether you ever think of yourself (or others) as a Yankee, it seems we ultimately have the Dutch to thank for the term.