Where did the term "yankee" come from and What does it mean?

19 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    No one is positive of the origin but entymologists have two strong guesses. I copied the following from the site listed in my sources:

    "This self-referential American term is of uncertain origin. There are two leading hypotheses with several other less-likely contenders.

    The OED2's earliest usage cites are from the 1680s. They refer to a pirate (at least it is probably to one individual) named Yankee Duch (1683),Captain Yankey (1684), and Captain John Williams (Yankee) (1687). The next earliest reference is an estate inventory from 1725 listing a slave named Yankee.

    The earliest recorded usage of the term for Americans in general is in a 1758 letter by General James Wolfe, the hero of the battle of Quebec, in which he uses it as a pejorative term.

    The song Yankee Doodle dates from 1775 and was intended to be insulting. Following the battle of Concord, during which the retreating British played it on the route back to Boston, the Americans adopted the tune as their own and the term began to acquire a complimentary sense.

    This, however, may not be earliest usage of Yankee in a positive sense. In 1789, William Gordon published a history of the American Revolution in which he credits a Cambridge, Massachusetts farmer named John Hastings with using Yankee as an adjective meaning excellent as far back as 1713. John Hastings actually existed, but we have no other sources that credit his usage of the term, which is in contradiction to the general usage during the Colonial period.

    The leading hypothesis as to its origin is that it is from the Dutch janke, meaning a diminutive of the name Jan. The OED2 favors this explanation, as does American Heritage and Ayto.

    The second leading hypothesis is that it is from Jan Kaas, literally John Cheese, a nickname for the Dutch that parallels the British John Bull. Usage of Jan Kaas has been dated in Europe to the 1650s. The term could have been applied to Dutch pirates in the Caribbean (hence the 1680s references) and later shifted to New Englanders. Mencken favors this explanation, saying that the term was probably applied by Dutch New Yorkers to New Englanders "whose commercial enterprise outran their moral scruples." Thrifty New Englanders like Hastings may have taken this as a compliment.

    Other, less likely origins have also been suggested:

    The earliest suggestion comes from Thomas Anburey, a British officer serving under Burgoyne in 1789. He claims it comes from the Cherokee word eankke meaning coward. Supposedly, it was first applied by Virginians to New Englanders who refused to help them in their war with the Cherokees. No other reference to the Cherokee word has been found, however.

    Others starting with the Rev. John Heckewelder (1819) and James Fenimore Cooper (1841), claim it derives from an American Indian corruption of the word English. Various supposed Indian words, such as Yengees, are claimed to support this hypothesis.

    Washington Irving, in his Knickerbocker's History of New York, facetiously claims it comes from a MaisTchuseg (Massachusett) word Yanokies meaning silent men. Some have taken this to be a serious suggestion.

    Another hoax appeared in an 1810 Boston newspaper. It claimed that it derived from a Persian word, jenghe, meaning warlike man or swift horse. The article was a parody of Noah Webster's writings and, again, some have taken it seriously.

    The Pennsylvania Evening Post in 1775 suggested that it came from the name of an Indian tribe, the Yankoos, which meant invincible ones. Despite the patriotic sympathy exhibited by the paper, there is no other evidence of the existence of this tribe.

    Various British dialectical words have also been suggested. Yankee was supposedly a Lincolnshire word for gaiters or leggings. In Scots, yankie means a forward, clever woman and yanking is an adjective meaning pushy, forward. Another dialect word, jank means excrement, although this one is pronounced with the /j/ sound, not the /y/. "

    I am in favor of the second explanation that it was a nickname for dutch pirates in the Carabean that began to be percieved respectably and was taken as a nickname for Americans, and later Northerners.

  • heusel
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Yankee Definition

  • 5 years ago

    The word Yankee is a old Celtic word used to describe a # 2 bowel movement. There couldn't have been a better use of the word as a way to describe The Northern invaders of the Land of Dixie. After living 150 years of Yankee occupation I believe it is a fitting Title. I would like to thank all you Yankees for this fine Gov. we have today. You'all can be very proud of your ancestors.

    Attachment image
    Source(s): Johnny Reb
  • DrB
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago


    Origin: 1765

    From the beginning, Yankee has been a fighting word. We first come across it in the names of pirates: one Captain Yankey, also known as Yankey Duch (presumably meaning "Dutch"), mentioned in 1683 and 1684, and a Captain John Williams, known as Yankey or Yanky, in 1687 and 1688.

    By 1765, it had been applied specifically to inhabitants of New England, and not as a compliment. A poem published that year called Oppression, a Poem by an American, has as its hero "a Portsmouth Yankey," with the note, "our hero being a New-Englander by birth, has a right to the epithet of Yankey; name of derision, I have been informed, given by the Southern people on the Continent, to those of New-England."

    The British liked Yankee, too, when they wanted a derisive epithet for the New England provincials. They set it to music in the song "Yankee Doodle," said to have been composed by a British army surgeon "in derision of the provincial troops."

    Then came the American Revolution, and the word as well as the world turned upside down. What had been an insult became a boast. Yankees used that name proudly for themselves as they fought the British, and "Yankee Doodle" became the marching song of the revolution.

    But if Yankee was now a term of endearment, how could southerners express their derision toward the people of the North? Simple enough. Add a prefix, and you have fighting words once again: damned Yankee or plain damyankee. They appear as early as 1812, in this threat: "Take the middle of the road or I'll hew you down, you d'--d Yankee rascal."

    Even in the twentieth century, when Yankees has often just seemed to signify the name of a baseball team, southerners still call northerners Yankees when they are annoyed with them. And during the World Wars, when we told our allies "the Yanks are coming," we meant fighting men.

    Source(s): Google
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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Hi dear,

    Meanings of "Yankee" :

    American, citizen of the United States; resident of the northern United States of America; native or resident of New England (USA); Union soldier during the American Civil War

    Good Luck

  • Susan
    Lv 4
    5 years ago

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    5 years ago

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    Where did the term "yankee" come from and What does it mean?

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  • 1 decade ago

    It comes from the term "John Cheese" or "Jan Kaas" used by British settlers to describe the Dutch inhabitants of Niewe Amsterdam - which subsequently became New York.

  • 4 years ago

    The word Yankee comes from the tribe of the Yankoo. they ran his vast continent the Aboriginal they ran from North in Canada South to Mississippi all the way over to what they call New England and I have proof of this original source.

  • when i went to arkansas in the summer, someone told me that i have a yankee accent. i was like what's that mean and they said that i am from the east coast and since i am from New Jersey, they said i have the stongest. so i think that if you are from the Nj area, you would be called a yankee.

  • 1 decade ago

    The term Yankee refers to those Americans from New England whose ancestors arrived from Great Britain before 1700; by extension it is applied to any resident of the Northeast (New England, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Great Lakes states) or to other citizens of the United States


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