Encyclopedic Entry

This Yankee bombshell adorns a B-17 bomber.

Photograph by: Rob Morgan, My Shot

A Connecticut Yankee
Author Mark Twain's novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, was the inspiration for a handful of movies including A Kid in King Arthur's Court, Army of Darkness, and Black Knight. (Twain himself was not a Yankeehe was a Southerner from Hannibal, Missouri.)

Yankee Doodle
Before The Star Spangled Banner, by Francis Scott Key, was made the official U.S. national anthem in 1931, Yankee Doodle was often used as an unofficial national anthem.

The official version of Yankee Doodle has 16 verses, giving a pretty good history of the American Revolution. One of the verses mentions Captain Washingtonnot yet a general, or a president.

The daughter of President John Kennedy, Caroline, had a pony, Macaroni, named after the lyrics to "Yankee Doodle". Macaroni was given to the Yankee, Caroline, by her fathers southern (Texan) vice president, Lyndon Johnson.

Yankee Clipper
Joe DiMaggio, a center fielder for the New York Yankees, was nicknamed The Yankee Clipper. DiMaggio was chosen for the All-Star Game every year he played, from 1936-1942, and from 1946-1951. (The Yankee Clipper didnt take a four-year break; he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.)

Yankee” is a word almost everyone has heard—but most of us don't know quite what it means. Some people love it—especially baseball fans who root for the New York Yankees. Some people hate it—the word started as an insult. Some people think it's simply a silly description for people who live in a certain area of the United States.

Yankee is sometimes abbreviated as “Yank.” People from all over the world, including Great Britain, Australia, and South America, use the term to describe Americans. (In Spanish, it’s spelled yanqui.) Sometimes, it's a negative description. Other times, it's a playful term.

In the United States, the term specifically refers to residents of New England. New England includes the states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

During the Civil War, and even after the war came to an end, Yankee was a term used by Southerners to describe their rivals from the Union, or northern, side of the conflict. After the war, Yankee was once again mostly used to describe New Englanders.

Yankees have been important players in politics. Often, there is a stereotype associated with Yankee politicians: they are white, wealthy, and attended elite colleges like Harvard University. Yankee politicians are often associated with civic pride and public service.

Former Presidents John F. Kennedy (from Massachusetts), Calvin Coolidge (from Vermont), and George H. W. Bush (from Massachusetts and Maine) are considered cultural Yankees.

No one is really sure where the word Yankee came from. Some say a British general named James Wolfe used it first in 1758 when he was commanding some New England soldiers. Others say the word comes from the Cherokee word eankke, which means coward. Some say it comes from a Dutch word, since many immigrants from the Netherlands settled in the northeast part of the United States.

The song "Yankee Doodle" is a familiar one to many who grew up in the United States. It started out as a well-known British song, dating back to the early 1700s. The song describes a sloppy person. Its lyrics were sung originally by British military officers to mock the amateur "Yankee" soldiers of the American Colonies.

Eventually, the song, now the state anthem of Connecticut, became the first national anthem of the United States. In fact, "Yankee Doodle" was sung at Fort McHenry, Maryland, when Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" nearby.

The American author E. B. White came up with a funny summary of how to keep the term straight. It shows how, in the end, who is and isn't a Yankee is all about the geographic perspective:

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.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

amateur

Adjective

person who studies and works at an activity or interest without financial benefit or being formally trained in it.

American Colonies

Noun

13 areas in North America governed by the British until the American Revolution of 1776. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

anthem

Noun

song of strong belief in faith or patriotism.

Cherokee

Noun

people and culture native to the southeastern United States.

civic pride

Noun

placing value in a locality or working to make that locality better.

Civil War

Noun

(1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

E. B. White

Noun

(1899-1985) American writer. (Born Elwyn Brooks White.)

elite

Adjective

exclusive or the best.

immigrant

Noun

person who moves to a new country or region.

New England

Noun

area in the United States comprising the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

stereotype

Noun

a general characteristic associated with a group of people.

Union

Adjective

having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.

Yankee

Noun

term for an American or someone from the northeast coast of the United States.

Encyclopedic Entry: Yankee

Yankee Doodle

Noun

patriotic American song.


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Editor

Jeannie Evers

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Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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