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Affectionate nickname

Posted by Ward on July 01, 2004

In Reply to: Affectionate nickname posted by dhm on July 01, 2004

: : : : : : : : : Only seconds ago I posted something on the term 'sounding board'. In doing so I referred to my 'Yankee' friend. It occurred to me afterwards, that this might be entirely incorrect or even politically incorrect (perish the thought I would EVER be politically incorrect - mwahahah!!!!).

: : : : : : : : : Anyway, I, from the lower planetory regions (on a higher planetory scale of course), tend to occasionally refer to all Americans as Yanks - in a totally casual, across the board without thought basis. But it occurred to me that a country that has as part of its history 'civil war' might not necessarily take kindly to that ('take kindly' has to be an Americanism).

: : : : : : : : : The point I'm making is, when I say 'Yank' it's with as much feeling and venom as 'Pom' - ie. NONE! It's all just a term of endearment to me - ie. slang.

: : : : : : : : : So if I offend I apologise - it's down to my parochial ignorance.

: : : : : : : : : But there's a question here too - in doing so, do I offend? ie. Is calling American 'Yanks' offensive to some Americans? And is there a difference between me calling you 'yanks' and 'yankees'? I'm not kidding, I really don't know. Your TV programs don't enlighten on these points.

: : : : : : : : It's not offensive to me.

: : : : : : : PS -- Maybe some Southerners might not like it. I don't know since I'm not from the South. They might be amused by it. Superpatriot that I am, I consider being called a Yankee an honor.

: : : : : : People in the UK also seemed to think that "Yank" was some sort of term of abuse, and I"ve no doubt some of them meant it that way when they used it, but no American I know feels it's a term of abuse. I even had one or two people leap to my defence in case I might be offended by the term. Though galant, it seemed surreal as if someone leaped up to defend me because someone used the terms "woman", "curly-haired", "blonde" or "dromdary".

: : : : : : My own theory is that this is because Americans are not, as a group abroad oppressed or down trodden. It therefore never occurs to them to feel bad when someone uses the term "Yank."

: : : : : The term "Yankee" seems to change meaning according to the speaker and the audience. It's supposed to have originally been an insult hurled by Dutch New Amsterdamers at the English settlers to their east in Connecticut (1600's). I've seen it derived, speculatively, from the Dutch "Jan Kees" meaning "John Cheese" though I suspect some obscene double entendre might be at play here. As often seems to happen, the Connecticut men took the insult and adopted it as a badge of honor.

: : : : : By the early 19th Century the meaning of "Yankee" had been expanded to include all New Englanders, particularly as distinct fron "Yorkers". All of the traits stereotypically associated with the New Englanders are wrapped up in the word at this time, taciturnity, shrewdness bordering on dishonesty, a certain impenetrable mode of speech, etc.

: : : : : Of course by the Civil War "Yankees" was most often used to mean someone from the northern states and was usually spoken with much venom by southerners. It still is. My wife, who is from North Carolina, feels it is vaguely insulting to refer to my Connecticut family as Yankees. I assure her that we are proud to refer to ourselves that way, and that no one from the North will take offence.

: : : : : Now anyone from the USA is referred to as a Yank by much of the world. I don't know of any American who would be insulted by it.

: : : : : Ironically, as a Connecticut man, I am predisposed by birth to be a Boston Red Sox fan (that's a baseball team to you outlanders) and I pray for God to blast the prospects of the New York Yankees. (Amen)

: : : : In my opinion, Yank or Yankee is an affectionate nickname that is positive in its reference. I use Oz or Ozzies to refer in the same way to Aussies --- with the same positive orientation. Kiwis are New Zelanders in the same perspective. There are a number of not very positive or complimentary country nicknames that I need not mention here, but these three are, to me, all very positive in their generally understood meaning.
: : : : There must be a theory of nicknames which spells out, in exquisite detail, the difference between a nickname that is selected for its offensive value, as compared with an affectionate one. I now wonder, however, if the 'PC value' of a nickname is shared around the world.

: : : It is hard to know how a national nickname sounds to the person it's meant to describe. A coworker of mine who is originally from Poland asked me once whether it was alright to refer to a Canadian as a Canuck. It certainly sounds insulting, especially when laid beside Polack and Bohunk and similar derogatory terms ending in "k". But I told her that I couldn't believe that it could be too insulting since Vancouver had a hockey team called the Canucks. Any Canadians want to confirm/correct me on this?

: : : Incidently, "Polack" is the word by which the Polish people refer to themselves, so its "PC Value" is strictly due to who is saying it and how it is said.

: : while we're on the topic, is it o.k. to call the French-- "frogs"? what does frog mean, anyhow?

: My experience, growing up in New England, was that "frog" was pretty insulting. You might be able to get away with it with a close friend, but in other circumstances it could get you a bloody nose.

I don't think 'frog' is an affectionate nickname.