H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
colonial speech from some West Indian dialect, went over into orthodox English, and from English into French, German and other Continental languages, and was then abandoned by the colonists. We shall see other examples of that process later on.
Whether or not Yankee comes from an Indian dialect is still disputed. An early authority, John G. E. Heckwelder, argued that it was derived from an Indian mispronunciation of the word English. Certain later etymologists hold that it originated more probably in an Indian mishandling of the French word Anglais. Others derive it from the Scotch yankie, meaning a gigantic falsehood. Yet others derive it from the Dutch, and cite an alleged Dutch model for Yankee Doodle, beginning Yanker didee doodle down. Finally, Ernest Weekly, in his Etymological Dictionary,13 makes the conjecture that it may be derived from the Dutch Jan (=John), possibly by back-formation from Jan Kes (=John Cornelius). Of these theories that of Heckwelder is the most plausible. But here, as in other directions, the investigation of American etymology remains sadly incomplete. An elaborate dictionary of words derived from the Indian languages, compiled by the late W. R. Gerard, is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution, but on account of a shortage of funds it remains in manuscript.14
From the very earliest days of English colonization the language of the colonists also received accretions from the languages of the other colonizing nations. The French word portage, for example, was already in common use before the end of the seventeenth century, and soon after came chowder, cache, caribou, voyageur, and various words that, like the last-named, have since become localisms or disappeared altogether. Before 1750 bureau,15 gopher, batteau, bogus, and prairie were added, and caboose, a word of Dutch origin, seems to have come in through the French. Carry-all is also French in origin, despite its English quality. It comes, by the law of Hobson-Jobson,
Note 13. An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English; New York, 1921, p. 1651. [back]
Note 14. I have examined this manuscript. It consists of a vast mass of notes, many of them almost undecipherable. Editing it for publication will be a colossal task. [back]
Note 15. (a) A chest of drawers, (b) a government office. In both senses the word is rare in English, though its use by the French is familiar. In the United States its use in (b) has been extended, e. g., in employment-bureau. [back]