Evidence on "Yankee" Etymology

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Sep 14 13:33:47 UTC 2013

Thanks.  A perhaps related very minor note. OED's earliest attestation for "the Yankee Doodle song" is reported as 29 Sept. 1768. Some publications date the same dispatch as 28 Sept. and spell it "the Yanky Dudle song." E. g. :



St. James's Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London) "Journal of the Transactions in Boston September 28, 1768" Nov 10-12, 1768 issue 1202 p. 2 col. 1-2, here col. 1.

Stephen Goranson
From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Baker, John [JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM]
Sent: Friday, September 13, 2013 3:43 PM
Subject: [ADS-L] Evidence on "Yankee" Etymology

The etymology of "Yankee" is unascertained, although several theories have been put forward.  The OED says that the two earliest statements as to its origin were published in 1789.  Here, via Access Newspaper Archive, are two earlier statements, both from 1775.

First, from the London Evening-Post, June 17, 1775, p. 4, col. 2.  This is a letter from an unnamed Boston gentleman, dated April 22, 1775, describing the Battle of Bunker Hill:

"[A]nd we have by this action got in reality the term Yankee, which is an Indian word, and was given our forefathers, signifying Conquerors, which these ignoramuses give us by way of derision."

Second, from the Middlesex Journal and Evening Advertiser, July 13, 1775, p. 3, col. 2.  According to the Feb. 1857 issue of Historical Magazine (pp. 59, 92) (Google Books), this was also published in the Philadelphia Evening Post on May 25, 1775, and the New York Gazette on June 1, 1775:

"A correspondent has favoured us with the following etymology of the word _Yankee_.
"When the New England colonies were first settled, the inhabitants were obliged to fight their way against many nations of Indians.  They found but little difficulty in subduing them all, except one tribe who were known by the name of the YANKOOS, which signifies _invincible_.  After the waste of much blood and treasure, the Yankoos were at last subdued by the New England men.  The remains of this nation (agreeable to the Indian custom) transferred their name to their conquerors.  For a while they were called Yankoos; but from a corruption, common to names in all languages, they got through time the name of Yankees."

A similar but somewhat longer account appears in the (London) Public Advertiser, May 6, 1778, p. 3, col. 2.

I present these statements for what they are worth.  I am unaware of any evidence outside of these accounts for an Indian tribe called the "Yankoos."  I need hardly say how welcome it would have been to the Yankees, at the outset of the American Revolution, to learn that their name meant "invincible" or "conqueror."

John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list