“Y” is for “Yankee”

A “Yankee” is indelibly an American.

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.

     ~~  E. B. White

E. B. White nailed it, if he did, in fact, say or write this Yankee definition ascribed to him. All references I could find in my research cited back to Wikipedia, which cited a 2012 National Geographic magazine article. Unfortunately, National Geographic didn’t cite any source for the quote.  In any case, it’s humorous and mostly true. Mark Twain, however, apparently considered a Yankee to be a Connecticut resident, as he was (albeit a transplant from the Midwest). As a Nutmegger myself, I must agree with Twain. My evidence is Twain’s satiric fantasy “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Connecticut’s official state song is Yankee Doodle. Most kids here in Yankee country learned the song in kindergarten, if not before. I always thought it had two verses or one verse and a chorus:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

Surprise! The song actually has 16 verses. Who knew? Follow the above link to Wikipedia to see the rest of them. The original version, with slightly different lyrics, was written around 1755 by British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh. The melody is much older, possibly originating in 15th century Holland. Shuckburgh’s intent was to mock American soldiers as being Yankee simpletons. The Americans added their own verses to mock the British soldiers and got the last laugh: They played Yankee Doodle when the British surrendered at Saratoga in 1777.

The term Yankee Doodle is also associated with George M. Cohan, “an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer.” Cohan’s first Broadway musical, “Little Johnny Jones,” featured a patriotic song, “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” also known as “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Cohan was, himself, a Yankee. His life is chronicled in the 1942 musical film, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” in which American actor-dancer James (“Jimmy”) Cagney, playing Cohan, sang the title song.

I would be remiss to end this post without mentioning my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, a misnomer if ever there was one. The team was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. (The 1901 Orioles have no relation to the current Baltimore Orioles.) In 1903, new owners moved the team to New York, where it was renamed the New York Highlanders. That name never really stuck, especially with journalists. Some called them the “New York Americans” because they played in the American League and to distinguish them from the New York Giants which played in the National League. Others called them the “Invaders,” probably because they invaded the baseball Giants’ territory. One sports editor called them “Yankees” or “Yanks” because the name fit better on a headline.  Ten years after arriving in New York, in 1913 the team’s name was changed officially to New York Yankees. Except, they’re not technically “Yankees;” New York isn’t in New England.


2 thoughts on ““Y” is for “Yankee”

  1. And here in Rhode Island, there are some known as “Swamp Yankees.” Not really a complimentary term, it refers to those who hail from the southern part of the state (around the Great Swamp area), from long-time families, not wealthy, not refined.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently “Swamp Yankee” is a somewhat derogatory term used only in CT, RI, & MA. Although, I don’t know about you, I’ve never heard anyone in CT or RI use it. (Or MA, for that matter)


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