Yankee and Gringo


The term yankee, to begin with, has different meanings depending on context. By non-Americans in countries outside of the United States, the term is often used colloquially to refer to any American in a neutral way. Sometimes, though, because of perceived negative effects of U.S. foreign policy, people outside of the U.S. may imply anti-American sentiments in their usage of the word yankee, meaning that subtle undertones are important to distinguish a speaker’s intent.

As opposed to the meaning that the term yankee takes when uttered by non-Americans, used by Americans themselves the word sometimes limits itself to contemptuously denoting any person from the Midwest or the north-eastern parts of the United States. The reason for this is that southerners may think of a yankee as a northerner who is shrewd, arrogant and rude. These negative descriptors of people from the northern United States, in all likelihood, have carried over from how white southerners thought of white northerners, whom they called yankees, during the Civil War in the mid-19th century. Even so, the north–south divide is far from as sharp today as it once was, and using the term yankee as an insult has nowadays lost a great deal of relevance. Instead, today, the word can be applied without value-laden implications, and names like “New York Yankees” are fully accepted and not considered derogatory at all.


Somewhat similarly to how the label yankee is used outside of the United States, the Latin American word gringo typically refers to any white person from the United States. With that said, usage of the term gringo sometimes extends to include any white foreigner in Central and South America, as well as any English-speaking black person from North America.

Used by Latin Americans in practically any situation or context, the word gringo is generally neutral. In line with this, most Americans, including American tourists in Latin America, seem to have no problem with being labelled gringos, or gringas as women are often called. Nevertheless, on occasion, the term gringo could be used offensively as a way to point out a person’s association with the purportedly evil and imperialistic Uncle Sam. Likely for this reason too, a subset of Americans do take offense at falling under this classification.