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Are There Any Yankees Left Today?

Are There Any Yankees Left Today?
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Welcome to the June 2011 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H.

Are There Any Yankees Left Today?

To answer that question, one would have to arrive at a definition. And that is no easy task. . .

A Yankee has been variously defined as an American, a northern American, a New Englander, a Vermonter, and a Vermonter who eats apple pie for breakfast (preferably with a knife).

There doesn’t seem to be a real consensus on the word. Some define it by geography; others maintain it is more a state of mind. An example of the latter would be a 19th-century definition which goes as follows: “A Yankee is a wizened old man with a hook nose sitting on a sharp rock near a stormy sea drinking vinegar —and contemplating adultery.”

Pretty harsh. And when someone says I’m an example of a Yankee I resist, pointing out that, for instance, I do not possess a hook nose. Actually, in all seriousness, I belong to the geography school. To me, a Yankee is someone either native to New England or perhaps whose ancestors were.

And yet I’m intrigued with both the Dutch theory and the Indian one. Advocates of the Dutch theory say that the early Dutch settlers in New York sold cheese to the early English settlers in Connecticut. Or was it vice versa? Anyway, the English began calling the Dutch “John Cheese” which, in Dutch, is “Jan Kaas” which could easily have evolved into the word “Yankee”.

Those who favor an Indian origin cannot decide on which Indians.

“Yankee comes from the Cherokee word eankke meaning slave or coward,” Tom Aytos, a New England scholar from Reading, Massachusetts, once told me. “It was applied to the inhabitants of New England by the residents of Virginia when the New Englanders would not assist them in a war with the Cherokees.”

James Fenimore Cooper, in a footnote in The Deerslayer, wrote, “all the old writers who speak of the Indians, say the Indians pronounce ‘English’ as ‘Yengeese’.”

Then there’s a Professor Edward Taube of Racine, Wisconsin, a scholar of the early Algonquin Indian language, who suggests Yankee evolved from the Algonquin word awaunaguss which means “this stranger,” (Sounds a bit farfetched to me. I mean “Awaunaguss go home?” Doesn’t seem right,)

The late Joe Allen, who once wrote a monthly column for Yankee Magazine, explained to me that Yankee came from the good-natured Sunday afternoon tugs-of-war between the Indians and the early settlers of Olde Plimouth, Massachusetts. He said the Indians always won because they would begin pulling a split second before the pistol shot that began each contest. So the Indians became knows as the Yankors which of course, made the settlers the. . . well, that was just Joe’s opinion.

So anyway, would I say there are still some Yankees around today? Well, sure. Millions of them. And most don’t even know it.

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Are There Any Yankees Left Today?

Updated Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

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