Friday, November 6, 2009

Yankees, Gringos, and Yumas - Concurso Etimológico

A few years ago while visiting Cuba, I noticed an unusual number of Cubans sporting Yankees caps. It was back when the Cuban pitcher, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, had joined the team. This struck me as supremely ironic. In a country where "Abajo Yanqui Invasor!" (Down with the Invading Yankees!) had become a slogan (and perhaps for good reason following the Bay of Pigs), America's team is closely followed and even revered.

But it's not just newly arrived Cuban peloteros like El Duque or Aroldis Chapman, the most recent Cuban free-agent defector to flirt with becoming a Yankee. Jorge Posada, catcher for this year's World Champion Yankees, is in fact a walking Caribbean trifecta. His father is Cuban, his mother is Dominican, and he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Never was there a truer Yankee!

So in honor of the 2009 Yankees (not the Yanquis!) who are celebrating their victory in the Canyon of Heroes in southern Manhattan as I write these words, I propose a etymological contest (Un Concurso Etimológico).

Take a stab at telling our readers the origins of these three (in)famous words from the inter-American lexicon:




Rules: Do not resort to Google or Wikipedia for help in your answers. I'm more interested in getting the unvarnished, mythic, and "urban legendary" ideas about the origins of these words. I do have my own theories - but feel free to let 'er rip with your own.

Prizes: The most creative, enlightening, and accurate responses will get one of my Cuban music CD compliations (I have a survery/sampler version, a bolero version, and am working on a new Cuban hip-hop sampler). Winner's choice!


  1. This is great. I'm working now, but I'll be back ;-)

  2. Wow, that's difficult. The only thing I could answer is the first one: Yankee- Dates back from before the Revolutionary War, when the Brits would call 'em that to mock 'em. Of course, I'm getting that from the song Yankee Doodle Dandy (if one could call it that), which also accuses American soldiers of being foolish, feminine and/or bad with fashion (macaroni).

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  4. I heard it came from the Cuban love of the 1957 film which was recalled when the revolution became anti-American, mainly as a battle of wills between the 2 countries' leaders. And it was a sort of coded word for USA (pronounced "OOOSA" vs. "OOOMA" for Yuma. IMDb's synopsis of the story is illuminating: After outlaw leader Ben Wade is captured in a small town, his gang continue to threaten. Small-time rancher Dan Evans is persuaded to take Wade in secret to the nearest town with a railway station to await the train to the court at Yuma. Once the two are holed up in the hotel to wait it becomes apparent the secret is out, and a battle of wills starts.

  5. I've also heard other reasons for the name...There was a black joke about "Yuma" in the 60s...About the black slave inside the fort which was surrounded by Indians being told that if he could get word outside to the general that the fort was surroundedand and they needed help, he'd be granted his freedom. As they pushed him out of the doors of the fort on his mission, the indians immediately shot at him and as he turned around to curse the people who sent him on the mission, he could only get out the words, "You ma..." before he died.

  6. Yankees is a word derived from the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam. Two most common names in Holland are Jan (pronounced Yan) and Kees. So the Dutch said "Every Jan en Kees" were immigrting to New Amsterdam = Yankees

  7. I like the question: Where did the Cuban word "guajiro" come from? Do you have an answer to that one?

  8. I'm a bit late chiming in here, but Sydney's response about the black slave and the indians is hilarious. But is the 3:10 to Yuma for real?