a Yankee dime

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jun 23 16:04:49 UTC 2002

>I came across a sentence like the following in a novel: "He didn't give a
>Yankee dime about anyone
>but himself."  From the context, it apparently means, "He didn't care
>about anyone but himself."

In this example "didn't give a Yankee dime" = "didn't give a damn" (or "a
shit" or "a hoot", etc.). "Didn't give a kiss" is not ever used in this
manner as far as I know.

"Yankee dime" has three meanings to my knowledge:

(1) the basic denotation, "American [i.e., USA] dime", a small coin or
monetary unit;

(2) as a metaphor, like "thin dime", meaning a very small price or value,
as used above;

(3) as a southern slang term = "kiss".

I don't know why "Yankee dime" means "kiss". Maybe the original usage was
related to a kiss given as a token payment or a "thank-you" for some small
assistance. As far as I know, the Confederate States never minted or issued
a dime, so I suppose that USA dimes were in circulation at least to some
extent in the CSA (i.e., the seceded southern states) throughout the Civil
War and I suppose "Yankee dime" would have been redundant in most contexts.

It may be that the usage was originally (maybe is still) pejorative, with
the idea that a kiss is all the payment one can get from a stingy Yankee
(i.e., northerner) ... this would be analogous to "Dutch treat" = "no
treat" (originally maybe "the treat one can get from a stingy Dutchman", I

Another possibility would be that "Yankee dime" meant "something small but
desirable", dating from the time after the Civil War when a USA dime would
have been more valuable than a (worthless) large CSA banknote, or dating
from slightly earlier when pessimistic/realistic CSA citizens hoarded
Yankee money in expectation of a Yankee victory.

[There is another southern expression sometimes cited for comparison:
"where the Yankee shot [somebody]" = "[somebody's]

When I get a chance, I'll see what I can find at the library ... unless one
of the local savants can provide more information?

-- Doug Wilson

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