Words are our oral history, and they help shape our cultural identity.
Don’t think so? Y’all are barking up the wrong tree.
Ever catch flak for being a Redneck or a Yankee? Discover where these words come from and why they have such a bite, so we can bury the hatchet and stand united in our love of words.
Idioms are tried and true phrases that reflect culture. They can be national, regional, and even stereotypical. Ever wonder where they came from?
The History Channel® investigates the commonplace phrases that clue others in to which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you’re from. America’s Secret Slang peers into the origins of common slang words and idioms and debunks the misconceptions that we all have about these classic American phrases.
Rednecks and Yankees—Unite!
These derogatory terms were coined by American pioneers. The South and its culture were cultivated by the notoriously rowdy and wild Scots-Irish. Redneck is commonly thought to refer to hardworking field men and sunscreen scarcity.
However, its roots are in rebellion—how fitting.
Scottish rebels sported red handkerchiefs around their necks in defiance of religious persecution. When they immigrated to the US, they settled in Appalachia and continued to be referred to as rednecks, but with a twangy twist.
But what of the Yanks?
When the Dutch found their New England settlement invaded by the British, they would use the slur Jan Kaas, meaning John Cheese, or someone with less-than-average intelligence. The British misunderstood and mispronounced the insult and began referring to themselves as Yankees.
(Rednecks, stifle your laughter.)
Y’all Bury the Hatchet
The Scots-Irish influenced Southern slang—and it’s not as bumpkin as you think. It’s actually quite polished.
Latin-based languages, like French and Spanish, have a singular and plural form of you. Old English did too. Thou was singular, and ye was plural. When the Scots-Irish established their roots in Appalachia, the plural reference to a group, ye all, was contracted, and y’all was born.
In the spirit of unity, let’s talk about what it means to bury the hatchet. The phrase describing a mutual truce is wholly American, originating from the Iroquois. To symbolize the end of a battle, warriors would dig a hole to bury their weapons.
If only we could all be so agreeable.
Don’t Go Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Ya Hear?
If you’re barking up the wrong tree, you’re picking a losing fight. What happens when you combine raccoon hunting, dogs, trees, and drunken Scots-Irish men in the Appalachian woods?
An idiomatic expression in the making.
Nocturnal by nature and climbers by trade, raccoons were hunted with dogs. To avoid becoming the next fashion faux-pas, raccoons would hide in trees and jump from one to another, leaving the dog barking … up the wrong tree.