The disparaging noun yokel is relatively new to English, having first appeared around 1812. In spite of the word's youthfulness, however, language experts aren't certain about its origins, though they have put forth a couple of interesting theories. One such idea is that yokel was derived from jokel, a dialectal German slang word that was originally a diminutive of the name Jakob but came to be used as a derogatory term for a farmer or other countryside denizen. And the other prominent theory, which is championed by the lexicographers behind both The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, purports that the word's contemporary meaning is actually a figurative one that evolved from a now defunct dialectal sense in which yokel referred to a strange-acting type of European woodpecker.
©2013 Michael R. Gates