Where did the name "Dixie" come from?

From The Straight Dope

Dear Cecil:

Where did the name "Dixie" come from? And exactly what states comprise Dixie? --Leigh-Anne H., Dallas

Cecil replies:

Dixie is usually thought to include the states of the Confederacy, but where the term comes from nobody knows for sure. Here are the three leading theories:

(1) Before the Civil War, the Citizens Bank of Louisiana, located in New Orleans, issued ten-dollar notes that bore the Creole/French word dix, ten, on one side. These notes were known as "dixies" and the south came to be known as the "land of dixies."

(2) The term comes from the Dixon in "Mason-Dixon line," the famous pre-Revolutionary War surveyors' line that separated Maryland and Pennsylvania.

(3) It comes from "Dixy's land," Dixy supposedly being a kindly slave owner on Manhattan island, of all places. Dixy's regime was supposedly so enlightened that for slaves his plantation came to symbolize earthly paradise. Sounds ridiculous, but the story was widely told in the years just after the Civil War.

The trouble with all these explanations is that there are no published citations of the word prior to the appearance of Daniel Emmett's song "Dixie" in 1859. One etymologist notes that a minstrel named Dixey performed in Philadelphia in 1856, but that's not much help. For what it's worth, the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary, normally reliable in these matters, come down foursquare on the side of explanation #1, on the basis of what evidence I do not know.

Then you get a few characters like the guy in the journal American Speech who speculates that it comes from dixi, Latin for "I have said [it]." This is allegedly emblematic of the take-no-guff attitude characteristic of the antebellum south. Forgive me if I decline to take sides.


What is the origin of the word "Yankee"?

From The Straight Dope, 11-Jul-1986

Dear Cecil:

What is the origin of the word "Yankee"? --Listener, WFBR, Baltimore

Cecil replies:

What's so complicated? You got your yankers, obviously you also got your yankees. However, I can't claim the etymological authorities are exactly lining up to embrace this notion.

The origins of "Yankee" have been fiercely debated throughout the history of the Republic, and to this day the Oxford English Dictionary says the source of the word is "unascertained." Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation was advanced by H.L. Mencken, the well-known newsman-scholar (and don't tell me that isn't an unusual combination), who argued that Yankee derives from the expression Jan Kaas, literally "John Cheese." This supposedly was a derogatory nickname bestowed on the Dutch by the Germans and the Flemish in the 1600s. (Wisconsin cheeseheads can undoubtedly relate.)

The English later applied the term to Dutch pirates, and later still Dutch settlers in New York applied it to English settlers in Connecticut, who were known for their piratical trading practices. During the French and Indian War the British general James Wolfe took to referring derisively to the native New Englanders in his army as Yankees, and the term was widely popularized during the Revolutionary War by the song "Yankee Doodle." By the war's end, of course, the colonists had perversely adopted the term as their own. Southerners used Yankee pejoratively to describe Northerners during the Civil War, but found themselves, along with all other Americans, called thus by the English during world wars I and II.

The alternative explanations--Mencken lists 16 of them--are that Yankee derives from various Indian languages, or from Scottish, Swedish, Persian, etc. James Fenimore Cooper claimed that Yankee resulted from a fractured attempt by the Indians to pronounce the word "English." But most others think Cooper was about as good an etymologist as he was a novelist.