January 1, 1996

 

Yankees are fine...if they're properly trained

By Steve Scroggins

 

Even before Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew a line in the sand (or it might have been red clay), there's been friction between the people on either side. Some confusion surrounds the significance of this boundary. Let's review.

The now-famous Mason-Dixon Line was actually the southern border of Pennsylvania. Extending this line westward, the southern side of the line would include parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Continuing the line eastward would include in our beloved Dixie the states of Maryland, Delaware and part of New Jersey. While one must admire Mr. Dixon's ambitious posture, everyone knows that people from those states are Yankees.

The "Yankee" label applies to a larger segment of the country than it once did. Given the Yankee occupation of Atlanta, which followed a century after the burning, some say that anyone living north of Forsyth (GA) is a Yankee. (That's a bit extreme; I recommend using your phone book as a guide. Everyone north of the 912 [now 478] area code should be considered Yankees.)

Sensitive readers may be saying, "Come on now, the war's over." Wrong! The culture war never ended.

Those shocked by open and repeated use of the Y-word are getting a bit too sensitive about words whose meanings vary to such a large extent. It was suggested recently on these pages [The Macon Telegraph opinion pages] that the meaning of "Yankee" depends on the intent of the user. Other colorful terms like "redneck" are equally versatile.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy's redneck jokes ("You might be a redneck if...") illustrate the concept. Foxworthy emphasizes that "redneck" is a "state of mind" and isn't intended as a disparagement. Same goes for "Yankee"...usually.

Recently heard from another Georgia writer: "How can you tell if a redneck is married?" Answer: "His pickup truck has tobacco juice on both doors." Astute readers see this falsehood immediately. Redneck ladies often use spit-cups.

Someone should write a parallel book: "You might be a Yankee if..." Example: You might be a Yankee if you refer to your home state as "Joyzzy" or to young people as "yoots." The movie "My Cousin Vinnie" depicts this phenomenon.

Many writers and comedians have addressed the subject of Yankees. It was either the late Lewis Grizzard or Jerry Clowers, both fine southern patriots, who once observed that all the Yankees who pass through on the highway "talk real funny" and drive rusty Cadillacs. Such a flagrant stereotype is obviously false. They also drive rusty Fords and rusty Buicks.

Not all usage of "Yankee" is benevolent. A friend tells me he was 12 years old before he knew "damn Yankee" was two words. He grew up in Florida where many Yankees relentlessly complained about everything but refused to leave, and thus earned the three-syllable designation.

The failure of some Yankees to assimilate Southern customs parallels the controversy of U.S. immigration policy. Most people don't mind a legal immigrant who pulls his or her own weight, learns the language and assimilates the culture. It's OK to be different; just don't come here and expect us to adapt for your convenience.

Lest any of you think I'm a Yankee-hating bigot, let me clarify that Yankees can be trained. The process is called "naturalization." For example, Ed Corson married his way in, and over the years he became a naturalized citizen.

Many immigrants from Northern states are quick learners. My boss, for example, a very smart individual, is from Indiana. Anyone so well-versed in car racing has to be OK. And his boss, a very smart man, is a naturalized citizen from Pennsylvania. I recently heard him say "y'all."

It's obvious to lucky Southern-born folks why so many people would want to live in our beloved South. And properly trained, we should let them. Remember, although we don't necessarily care how they did it in slushland, we should be polite about telling them----and always smile when using the Y-word.

Copyright 1996 Steve Scroggins - All rights reserved.

Authors note: Lighten up, folks. This column was intended as good-natured humor but it set off a firestorm of criticism from the hyper-sensitive and vigorous defenders in response. Some people seemed to take it personally and proceeded to list various events where they encountered uncivil treatment in the South and in the North (depending on the writer) as well as prolonged essays about why southerners can't seem to forget. I followed up with one more column to clarify my intentions. The "Yankee" term is more about arrogance than geography. The bumper sticker phrase "We don't care how you did it up north" applies to any compass direction or to federal bureaucrats of any origin.

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