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Mysteries of vernacular: Yankee - Jessica Oreck and Rachael Teel

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Is it a doodle dandy? A baseball team? The origins of the word yankee are unclear, though its usage in America as a pejorative is well-documented. Jessica Oreck and Rachael Teel track the varying levels of contempt that the word yankee has elicited from the pre-Revolution era to today.

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  • Director Jessica Oreck
  • Producer Rachael Teel
  • Educator Jessica Oreck, Rachael Teel

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Major General James Peter Wolfe (3 January 1727 – 13 September 1759) was a British Army officer, known for his training reforms but remembered chiefly for his victory over the French at the Battle of Quebec in Canada in 1759. The son of a distinguished general, Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe, he had received his first commission at a young age and saw extensive service in Europe where he fought during the War of the Austrian Succession. His service in Flanders and in Scotland, where he took part in the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellion, brought him to the attention of his superiors. The advancement of his career was halted by the Peace Treaty of 1748 and he spent much of the next eight years on garrison duty in the Scottish Highlands. Already a brigade major at the age of eighteen, he was a lieutenant-colonel by the age of twenty-three.
Yankee: 1683, a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. It may be from Dutch Janke, literally "Little John," diminutive of common personal name Jan; or it may be from Jan Kes familiar form of "John Cornelius," or perhaps an alteration of Jan Kees, dialectal variant of Jan Kaas, literally "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen.
[I]t is to be noted that it is common to name a droll fellow, regarded as typical of his country, after some favorite article of food, as E[nglish] Jack-pudding, G[erman] Hanswurst ("Jack Sausage"), F[rench] Jean Farine ("Jack Flour"). [Century Dictionary, 1902, entry for "macaroni"]It originally seems to have been applied insultingly to the Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English. A less-likely theory is that it represents some southern New England Algonquian language mangling of English. In English a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for "native of New England" (1765); during the American Revolution it became a disparaging British word for all American native or inhabitants. Shortened form Yank in reference to "an American" first recorded 1778.
James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as "The Man Who Owns Broadway." It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf, and features Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.
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11/22/2013 • 
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TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Director Jessica Oreck
  • Producer Rachael Teel
  • Educator Jessica Oreck, Rachael Teel

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