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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The term Yankee (sometimes abbreviated to Yank) has a number of possible meanings, but in almost all contexts, it refers to someone of United States origin or heritage. Constance Rourke's American Humor: A Study of the National Character identified the character of the “Yankee” as that first American comic figure, the first widely accepted American character that the nation could find funny, make fun of and even export for the amusement of the world - a gangly traveler who told stories, played elaborate practical jokes, was ingenuous, sly, perhaps uneducated. She reports that American comedy sprang forth after the American Revolution, when the country was “freed from the worry of self preservation” and its citizens began to regard themselves as “works of art."


1683, a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in Nieuw Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. It may be from Du. Janke, lit. "Little John," dim. of common personal name Jan; or it may be from Jan Kees familiar form of "Johan Cornelius," or perhaps an alt. of Jan Kees, dial. variant of Jan Kaas, lit. "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen. It originally seems to have been applied insultingly to Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English. In Eng. a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for "native of New England" (1765). Shortened form Yank in reference to "an American" first recorded 1778.

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