Yankee. People of other countries often call any person from the United States a Yankee. In the southern United States, the word Yankee means a Northerner, or someone who comes from north of Mason and Dixon's Line. But most of the people of the United States use the word Yankee to mean a New Englander.
People often say that someone is "shrewd as a Yankee" or "clever as a Yankee." The people of early New England had to develop great shrewdness and cleverness as they struggled to make homes and create industries in the rocky wilderness. "Yankee peddlers" roamed far and wide through early American communities, selling the articles made by Yankee craftworkers. These peddlers won a great reputation for getting high prices.
No one is sure where the word Yankee came from. Some dictionaries say it came from the Scottish word yankie, which means clever woman. Other dictionaries say it came from Yengee, an American Indian pronunciation of the word English or of the French word for English, which is Anglais. The most likely explanation is that the word comes from Janke, the Dutch equivalent of the English name Johnny. A pirate nicknamed Janke sailed in American waters in the 1680's. English colonists in New York spelled his name as it sounded to them, Yankey, and applied it to New Englanders as an insult for their sharp trading practices.
Perhaps the first person to use the word Yankee in a positive way was Jonathan Hastings, a farmer of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He used the word in the early 1700's to express the idea of excellence, speaking of a "Yankee good horse" or "Yankee cider." Harvard students who hired horses from Hastings began to use the expression. The word was widely used during the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783), when British soldiers made fun of New England troops by calling them Yankees. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Confederate soldiers called Federal troops Yankees. When United States troops arrived in Paris in 1917, the French press hailed them as Yankees or Yanks. Europeans have continued to use the word as a name for American soldiers.