phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Lewis on July 02, 2004

In Reply to: Maybe we should make more effort to think posted by MichaelFR on July 02, 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.

: : : : : Back when Renault was still selling cars in the U.S., they introduced the Renault 5 (later renamed the LeCar) to this market by having a cartoon frog sing "Thank heaven for little cars". For this who may not get the joke, it was a takeoff on French crooner Maurice Chevalier's famous "Thank Heaven for LIttle Girls".

: : : : I think Australians are just generally irreverent and we tend to use such nicknames with gay abandon, often without any ill intent. I call the French frogs too Platypus, and it's just a habit, cos my dad always called them frogs or froggies. I was blissfully unaware, until this thread, that it might be insulting. I always assumed we called the French frogs, cos they eat frogs legs, and as far as I know, that's an entirely french dish. That's what I thought were the origins, but maybe I'm completely misguided. Meanwhile - Michel (MichaelFR), would you be insulted if I called you a 'frog'? Might as well ask a Frenchman - seems a good way to get the facts on this.

: : : : And I think DHM's point is a really good one. It does sometimes depend on who says it. When I was growing up in country Victoria, we had a lot of Sicilian immigrants who started tobacco farms, etc. My best friend was the daughter of one of these families. I used to call her a 'wog', and she called me 'skip' (derived from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo which was a popular TV program at the time). Where I grew up, it was completely affectionate. But when I moved to the city, I quickly learnt that if I called anyone a wog - however affectionately, I'd probably get thumped. And I also learnt that if they were calling me 'skip' they were insulting me - which I thought was funny and it backfired, cos I was never insulted - it was completely unimportant to me.

: : : : Over time, once the mediterranean immigrants had been here so long that they were long timers and Australians now, they started referring to themselves as wogs - as a joke. And it evolved, even in the cities into a term of endearment or a joke, rather than an insult. In fact there are even stage plays - eg. Wogs out of Work that were produced (very funny too).

: : : : Another one not used the same way here as say in the U.S. is 'boy'. Many years ago, Mohammed Ali came here as a guest presenter on our local national TV awards - the Logies. One of our prominent TV presenters - Bert Newton was presenting with Ali. Ali told a joke, and Bert thought it was so funny he slapped him on the shoulder and said "I like the Boy". Ali nearly decked him on the spot and it got real ugly. Poor Bert had no idea what he'd said and neither did anyone else. But we soon realised that 'the boy' in the U.S. in reference to a negro is an insult and demeaning. But this didn't exist in Australia. Whenever a person says something funny, it's common to say "I like the girl" or "I like the boy", and it's entirely endearing. (And even as I typed that, I couldn't remember if I'm supposed to say 'negro', cos I remember a thread that discussed that in detail, but have forgotten the outcome. So again - I use the term 'negro' the same way I'd say white person, aborigine, etc. etc. It's purely descriptive to me and I apologise if it's not PC.)

: : : : Anyway, the situation was rescued and I believe Mr Ali came to understand that he was not being insulted, but actually complimented.

: : : : Funny how things can be so different in so many places. How easy it could be to start a fight without even meaning it.

: : :
: : : Very thoughtful post Goddess. I guess the only safe course is to treat everyone with the respect that their behavior merits. It won't keep you from making mistakes, but it might keep you out of a fight.

: : Maybe the thing is to look in their eyes and listen to the tone, and read the feeling behind the words, instead of assuming that words have a carte blanche meaning. Obviously rather difficult in print - such as this, but there are times when I witness people saying things and see a generic response that appears to be programmed rather than considered.

: I guess I wasn't around when my advice was needed...
: Sorry about that, I was out, frog hunting for my dinner!
: Well, seriously, I've heard a lot when I was in California "Frog" or "Froggy" for French people, but I never found it insulting. My friends were more using "Frenchie", a friendly way to remind me my origins.
: Maybe I don't care at all because I am not especially proud to be born French! We should wait for comments by a genuine native. The kind wearing a "beret" on his head, a "baguette" (bread) in one hand, a "camembert" cheese in the other one... And froggy slippers on his feet!

"Frog" for the French comes from the stereotype that French people eat frogs legs, a comestible that the English find repellent. I recall from somewhere that it started around the Napoleonic era - not that the English suddenly disliked the French then, but a paranoia developed about republicans slaughtering the rich and the educated. The French Republic was, to many people, as bad as the aristo regime it replaced and certainly something that the vested interests feared. With France a mere swim away, anti-French feeling was high - it was anti-'republican french' at heart, but the republican bit got rather lost. picking on minor differences, such as the garlic and frogs legs was all part of the war-time propaganda.
'frogs' and 'froggies' were intended as insults - implying that the French for all their pretensions were silly people who did not know civilised food. They were similarly polite about the English.