Jud's Journal: Origin of "Yankee"





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Published on Aug 5, 2010

Jud Hale discusses the origin of the word "Yankee".


Okay, well, you know people have asked me sometimes where the word Yankee comes from. We call it Yankee Magazine. Well, why Yankee? And I think that, well, it's got a big, large term. I don't want to define it too strictly.

In World War I and World War II, a Yankee was an American. I mean, when we went across to France and Germany, even people from Mississippi and Alabama were Yankees, but to most Americans I think a Yankee is a New Englander and to a New Englander, maybe a Yankee is, I don't know, a Vermonter, maybe.

To a Vermonter, what's a Yankee? Well, some say it's a man or woman who eats apple pie for breakfast. And I once asked somebody, well, now you eat apple pie for breakfast and your from Vermont, what's a Yankee to you? And they said, well, you eat it with a knife, the pie.

But the origin of the word, I've seen scholarly things about it. It's supposed to come from the Algonquin Indian language, the word Awaunugus, A-W-A-U-N-U-G-U-S, as in awaungus just go home, you've heard that. And others say that it probably comes from Connecticut. The New Yorkers used to buy cheese from Connecticut. Dutch people, there were Dutch in New York, you remember? And they called them John Cheese. They called the people in Connecticut John Cheese. J-A-H-N, and then K-E-E-S. That was in Dutch, Jahnkees. Yankee, that makes sense, right?

Well, Joe Allen used to write a column for us in Yankee Magazine for years and years, lived out in Martha's Vineyard. He said that it came from the Pilgrims. Now the Pilgrims versus the Puritans. Puritans landed in 1630, founded the Massachusetts Bay colony. I'm talking Pilgrims, you know, the Mayflower. Hopping out on the rock, stuff like that.

Well, they apparently, according to Joe, it's not my theory. Joe says that they had a big do every Sunday and they'd invite the Indians over and they'd have a nice meal. And they'd do some sporting events. One of those sporting events was a tug-of-war. What they couldn't figure out for a long time was the Indians always won. Why did the Indians win every single tug-of-war? Same number of people on each side.

Then they discovered why. Just before the gun went off to start the tug-of-war, the Indians started to tug, so they got that early thing. So they became known as The Yankors. All right, are you with me on that? Of course, the Pilgrims were the Yankees.

I'm sorry, I didn't make that up. That's Joe Allen's fault. But anyway, that's the origin of Yankee, maybe. There's a lot of other theories.


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