Tick Magnet


Clinicians throughout the Washington-Baltimore Statistical Metropolitan Area know that Michael Rolnick is a superlative clinical diagnostician of the old school. This reputation for lightening and bull’s-eye accurate diagnosis of ailments comes from his innate ability to “read” a patient, mentally and physically, then synthesize his observations, hands-on tests and the patient’s stated complaints (and, most importantly, a patient’s “hidden agenda”) and deliver the correct diagnosis before most physicians can figure out which new-fangled diagnostic machine or test to order.

Alas, his Sherlockian skills do not always extend to his own person. Case in point: notice I used the phrase “bull’s-eye.” Late on the night before we were leaving for the Netherlands, Michael descended the stairs in his boxers, announcing, “I think I have Lyme’s Disease. Look at this rash – it’s the classic bull’s-eye rash of Lyme’s. I wonder how I got it?”



I looked at the Superman of Diagnosticians and said, “You’ve GOT to be kidding. I told you several days ago that I’d found a tick on me and you made me immediately take an antibiotic prophylactically. Didn’t you check for ticks on yourself?” I also pointed out that in the last fortnight we’d spent a week in Wyoming-Colorado, gone biking and walking in the woods, and he’d played golf just a few days previously. “How could you miss a tick Why would you not look for ticks?”

(A few words of defense here: the rash was on the back of Michael’s upper thigh and rather difficult to spot on yourself – unless you were a yoga master or another sort of contortionist. Having hairy legs didn’t help his powers of observation!)

Meanwhile, Tim, examining the ugly rash, noted, “Pop, the tick’s still on you.”

Yup, right in the center of the bull’s-eye rash was a deer tick – a rather fat little deer tick.

Michael’s response?? “I thought that was a scab. Well, I guess it’s definite: I’ve got Lyme’s Disease.”

Like I said, bull’s-eye accurate, but this time a bit slow on the uptake. Michael went to order an antibiotic. Tim and I killed the tick.

There is some humor to be gained from all this: in addition to his numerous appellations (Gramps, The Rawls, Marco Rococo [don’t ask] and Swaggy [you really don’t want to know]), we can now all add the nickname “Tick Magnet.”

But he won’t be called a “cheese head” any time soon. Even though we are now in The Netherlands (a.k.a., The Land of Happy Cows) which produces the world’s best cheese, Michael cannot partake of this bounty because dairy products interfere with the antibiotic he’s (finally) taking.

So, dare I say it….





A Yankee By Any Other Name

Part 1 – Where did “Yankee” come from?

“Yankee” – a global word that tags a person irrevocably as being from the United States. We’ve heard it used with wry affection, in derision, with condemnation, and with pride.  Most Americans – especially those below the Mason-Dixon line – use it to refer to those U.S. citizens from the Northern States, particularly the Northeast. To non-Americans “Yankee” is synonymous with “American.”

But where did the word come from?

In truth, the etymology of “Yankee” is unclear, although there are several theories as to how the word entered the American-English language. Almost all of the leading theorists, however, agree that the word came from some form of Anglicization of colonial 17th century Dutch.

If you read my earlier blog (“Why New Yorkers Don’t Speak Dutch”, https://ourdistantsojourns.wordpress.com/) you’ve read my highly abbreviated history of the Dutch colonists in New Netherland (northeast to upper mid-Atlantic North America), and how, despite their short stay in Colonial America, indelibly influenced American values and persona, especially in the NY-lower New England region. What’s so interesting to me is how much of Dutch words you can find, still, in the New York area, and in the origins of “Yankee,” the personification of an American.

So here is a summary of possible etymology of “Yankee”:

(1)   Two popular Dutch names in Colonial times were “Jan” (pronounced “yawn”) and “Kees.” A few linguists argue that since often both names were paired together, somewhat like our “Billy Joe,” or “Mary Ellen,” or “Tommy Lee,” that “Jan Kees” came, over time, to refer to Dutch colonials themselves, or the English who settled in the Dutch colonies in the New Netherland.

(2)   Another set of etymologists (yes, people really do study this stuff!) believe that Yankee came from the Dutch “Janneke” which means, literally, “Little John” or “Johnny” (the suffix –eke is a diminutive in Dutch). Again, this term may originally have been used in referring to Dutch colonials, but later came to include English-speakers living in Dutch areas as well.

(3)   A third camp, which includes noted writer H.L. Mencken, believe the word “Yankee” developed from a derogatory term that Europeans and the English-speaking New world settlers used to refer to the Dutch: “Jan Kaas,” or, “John Cheese,” emphasizing  the strong association between Dutch and cheese. This camp argues that semi-derogatory names such as “Jan Kaas” have been similarly used for other nationalities, such as “John Bull” for English, or “Uncle Sam” for Americans, I mean, Yanks. And, with this particular epitaph “Yawn Kahs,”over time,  became “Yankees.”

Personally, I tend to favor this last theory, because you know what it means, don’t you? It means the Yankees are really Cheeseheads! Now wouldn’t that be something…seeing all those Yankee (baseball) fans decked out in yellow foam cheesehead hats like Wisconsinites!

Part 2 – Dutch Lives on in New York

The capital of New Netherland in North America was, of course, New Amsterdam. Then, as now, Manhattan was the center of trade and commerce to the known world. Although a fairly pluralistic society, despite being controlled by the Dutch West India Company, the Dutch influence decidedly dominated the area, and still can be seen today in everyday words, the city seal, area flags, and, yes, even a major New York sports team.

Take a tour around former New York City and even Long Island, and you can discern Dutch in many of the place names.  Amsterdam Avenue – that’s an obvious one. Brooklyn was once Breuklen, named after a small, riverside town close to me now in Utrecht. Harlem was named for Haarlem, a town west of Amsterdam. Flatbush was Vlackbos, Flushing was Flissing, Hempstead was Heemsteede. Part of The Bronx was once the farm of Jonas Bronck.

Yonkers has an interesting derivation. An early Dutch settler called Van der Donck acquired a huge tract of land – 24,000 acres — north and east of Manhattan. He worked the land, and built a sawmill that became so crucial to the local economy that eventually a road, and later a modern highway, were named after the sawmill – today’s Sawmill River Parkway.  In 17th century Dutch a young gentleman of property and wealth was called a Jonker or Yonkheer. Hence, the land soon was referred to as “the Jonker’s land,” then Anglicized to Yonkers.

File:First dutch flag.svg

Former Dutch flag 

Part 3 – Waving the Flag

While most of America might be a tad ignorant of our early Dutch influences, New Yorkers have not been lax. In 1915, the City of New York adopted as its official colors for the city and its flag the orange, blue and white of the Dutch colonial flag. The major difference is the city’s flag colors are vertically arranged, whereas the Dutch flag bears horizontal bars of the three colors. Additionally, the city seal bears two symbols that honor their Dutch heritage: the sails of a windmill, signifying the early, prosperous milling industry, and, the beaver, which was the mainstay of early trade and wealth as well as the symbol of the West India Company. The beaver is also the official animal of New York State.

At one time the NYC seal and flag bore the date 1664, the year the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch, but in the mid-1970s, the city reconsidered its historical origins and  changed the date on the flag to 1625, the year that New Amsterdam was founded, and the true “birth” of what is now New York City.

New York City official flag

Bronx County has gone two steps closer to its Dutch origins. The county flag bears both the colors and horizontal bars of the former Dutch flag, and the center of the seal on the flag is the Dutch Bronck family arms:


Bronx County Flag

And now for what all have been waiting for: How on earth does a major NYC sports team honor the city’s Dutch heritage?

Since you asked:

And ever wonder why the New York Knicks official colors for years were blue, white and orange? I think you can put it together by now…  But just in case you all are slow on the uptake: according to the official NBA site, the original Knicks in 1946 chose the official colors of New York City as their own. And “knickerbocker” from which the Knicks derive their name also has Dutch roots in colonial New Netherland. “Knickerbocker” was a term used to refer to the Dutch settlers because of the shortened or rolled up pants they wore. Washington Irving immortalized the name both in literature and vernacular with his tongue-in-cheek histories of New York, and thus the epitaph became synonymous not just with New Yorkers of Dutch descent, but all New Yorkers. (For more on this read http://www.nba.com/knicks/history/whatsaknickerbocker.html)

So, from flags to place names to basketball to early political values and pluralism, you can clearly see just how much the Dutch influenced America. Now, who wants to convince about 2 million people that they should change their city’s name back to New Amsterdam?

Why New Yorkers Don’t Speak Dutch

Entering now my third summer living in the Netherlands, I continuously remain fascinated by the Dutch, their culture, their history. In earlier blogs, I’ve commented on differences between Americans and Dutch in food, customs, world view, and, especially, language. Now I find myself turning a page in my Dutch “education” as I discover just how closely our two countries’ histories were once entwined, and but for a few twists of fate, Americans would be speaking Dutch, not English.

Every American student learns that the Dutch bought Manhattan Island from Native Americans for a few dollars’ worth of trinkets in what was most likely the first land swindle in New World history.  But here we also have the first New World historical “gloss-over”: at least the Dutch negotiated with and paid the Indians for the land; the other Europeans involved in the New World land-grab simply seized whatever amount of property they wanted, not blinking an eye if the land was already inhabited, nor if they killed a few (or hundreds) of the  Indian inhabitants in the process. But I digress.


By the early 1600s, the Dutch had become one of the economic “super powers” of the western world in terms of trade, ship-building and navigation.  As did most of the sea-faring countries of Western Europe, Dutch explorers sought a western sea passage to the East Indies in hopes of enhancing their trading prowess. And like Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Sweden, the Dutch found themselves in the New World Americas and decided to claim a slice as their own.


The Dutch ruled their small parcel of the New World for only 50-odd years, but, what they controlled was prime real estate. The flag of the Dutch Republic (a.k.a. the Republic of the Seven United Provinces) at one time flew over swathes of coastal land ranging from southwestern Cape Cod, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland; inland up the Delaware River into Pennsylvania; and from Long Island up both sides of the Hudson River to Albany, New York. The capital of New Netherland was, of course, New Amsterdam where the familiar horizontally-striped orange, white and blue flag greeted the Dutch trading ships as they entered the vast harbor.



Unlike most of the early settlers of North America, the Dutch did not come to avoid religious or political persecution in the home country or to colonize and acquire land for their country. In a remarkable combination of Calvinism and capitalism the Dutch came to make money – and every guilder of profit went straight back to the coffers of the Dutch West India Company, which funded and ran the settlements in New Netherland. While the WIC kept a tight rein on their colonial business interests, the colonists themselves brought with them the very uniquely Dutch attitudes of tolerance for religion, pluralism and civil liberties (such as they were in the 17th century). The population of New Amsterdam was a mixture of Dutch from differing economic levels, other Europeans and English, and African slaves, many of whom were able to earn their freedom long before that practice was permitted in other New World colonies. (When the New Netherland fell to the English in 1664, the WIC freed all the slaves before surrendering their colony.)

The 17th century Dutch were largely anti-monarchist and turned their noses up at nobility and inherited wealth and power – but not because they disdained wealth. The Dutch valued far more the individual who worked hard, showed “smarts”, was frugal even if wealthy, and, most importantly, earned their wealth. In other words, individual achievement mattered far more than inheritance and birthright. Sound familiar?

The Dutch also had a different attitude toward the discovery and claiming of new lands.  The English (and other Europeans) had a sweeping set of parameters for claiming new territories that totally ignored those people already inhabiting the land. If an Englishman simply set foot on uninhabited land (or inhabited by peoples the English deemed “uncivilized”), they not only claimed that immediate land, but all lands contiguous to the original footfall of the first (English) explorer. Thus, by first having set foot in Newfoundland in 1497, the English believed they had the claim to the entire North American continent.  Hence England, France, and Spain’s “manifest destiny” form of “exploration” was more akin to a “hostile” corporate takeover, albeit on a global scale.

However, in the Dutch mind (and law), an explorer couldn’t legally claim a land until after they’d explored, charted and settled the land. (This, of course, didn’t stop the Dutch from sometimes going to war with another country and seizing its overseas “assets” as opportunity rose, as in Indonesia.)

Thus, the Dutch and English were on a collision course as to who would control the mid-Atlantic and northeast America.  Alas, the English colonists of New England, ever greedy despite their Puritan beliefs, began to encroach inexorably upon the very sketchy borders of New Netherland, as thousands of new settlers poured in from England.  It didn’t help that several kings of England continually signed charters, blithely giving away huge chunks of eastern North America to cronies. Skirmishes escalated, diplomatic haggling failed, and the two countries descended into actual warfare.

The death knell for New Amsterdam came in 1664, when British war frigates entered the harbor and aimed their guns on the Dutch population. The Dutch were no dummies; they surrendered after the provincial governor, Peter Stuyvesant, negotiated an agreement protecting basic rights of the colonists of New Netherland, and New Amsterdam was rechristened New York.  (While the British did honor the agreement somewhat, allowing freedom of religion and basic civil liberties for Dutch settlers in (now) New York and the Hudson river Valley, considerable pillaging took place in Dutch settlements in Delaware, and many Dutch were killed or sold into slavery in Virginia.) And, we all know what transpired over the next 110 years: English dominance ensured that the basic identity of eastern America would forever be “Anglo.”

It’s a well-known fact that the victor writes the history books, so it’s no wonder that the history of the Dutch in America is not better known among the general public. While I make no claims that my summation approaches an exhaustive history, the point of this article is to give some background to the observation several historians have made: However short a time they ruled, the Dutch had a profound effect on what became the city of New York, as well as the foundation of the United States. The Dutch infused Anglo-American colonials with the principles that a person’s value had more to do with his work ethics and achievement, rather than birthright, and the concepts of civil liberties and religious freedom, principles that became basic precepts in the founding of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution more than a hundred years after the Dutch surrender of New Amsterdam.

My next blog will give some examples of how much Dutch influence, particularly place names, has remained intact, particularly in the New York area, and in some strange ways, as well. But I think you all will be rather surprised at how the one word that transcends language yet defines Americans world-wide actually came from the Dutch.

It’s just too bad that Americans never learned to make Dutch cheese….