Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni Hat

The Conundrum

(Reposted from last July!)

In San Francisco on U.S. Independence Day (July 4) waiting to see the fireworks off Aquatic Park, Thor and I heard a group of children singing:

Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

Though raised in different regions, both of us instantly remembered loudly singing this ubiquitous American (so we assumed) song as children as we went on car rides, Independence Day events, hiking etc.

As a child I wondered how Yankee Doodle got his name and why he would call his hat macaroni. I couldn’t figure it out and wondered if it was more than a silly song for children. Of course it was/is!

Let’s see … where to start … the 18th century U.K. and the New World (now U.S.), before the American Civil War …

First: The tune’s origin has been credited to Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army surgeon (copyright unknown).

Next, here are the translations of the terms used:

    • Yankee = 18th century derisive term for British colonials believed to originate with the Dutch colonists (e.g., there was a Dutch colony “New Amsterdam” on what is now the island of Manhattan)
    • Doodle = early 17th century term believed to come from German dudel or dรถdel, meaning “fool” or “simpleton”
    • Macaroni (… bear with me) …
      • A rite of passage for the most privileged of European young men, the Grand Tour introduced them to the countries of the European continent. Apparently in Italy they developed a taste for macaroni (then not well-known outside Italy), and so were proud to belong to the “Macaroni Club.” The term was used to describe anything that was fashionable, chic or ร  la mode: “very macaroni.”
    • In addition, the Macaroni wig was the height of fashion in Europe in the late 1800s; they were tall, powdered white and rather pointy. That the term quickly became slang for foppishness is no great surprise to us, especially when we consider the picture at the right titled “A Macaroni and his Wig” (pic from The Dandy).
    • Thus, the “macaroni” was the precursor to the “fopp” which was the precursor to the “dandy.” (Anybody know the current term? Wikipedia suggested “metrosexual.”)

Lastly, who originally sang the song – and why?

The French and Indian War (1744-1763) was the American continent (aka the “New World”) theater of the Seven Years’ War (a global military war, 1756-1763). In the French and Indian War, the American colonials (Yankees) were joined by British troops to fight “New France” (the north American colonies of France) which were backed by the French Army.

The British soldiers sang this tune to mock the Yankees. In addition to calling them fools, the British troops were implying the Yankees were unsophisticated enough to think sticking a feather in their caps would make them fashionable!

That bit of U.S. and British history has long been forgotten, though the tune and words remained popular. Here’s James Cagney (portraying George Cohan) singing and dancing (he could really hoof it!) his way through a medley of Yankee Doodle verses (but the main one is about Yankee Doodle going to London to ride the ponies – nothing about macaroni).

I took a quick look to see if I could find any “Yankee Doodle” patterns … yup. Check out Heartstring’s Yankee Doodle Sport Socks, Piecemaker’s Yankee Doodle Teddy, and Leisure Art’s several Yankee Doodle themed crochet patterns.

Note that originally – several hundred years ago – calling a “Yankee” (or anybody, for that matter), a “doodle” was probably “fightin’ words.” Yet the Yankees seem to have taken “Yankee doodle” and made it their own. In fact, babies born on the 4th of July (U.S. Independence Day) are frequently referred to as “Yankee Doodle” babies. ๐Ÿ™‚


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni Hat

  1. dianelouw says:

    Reblogged this on Diane's Thoughts and commented:
    Wow now i know where the name comes from….. Thanks Karen….


  2. I’m not so sure it’s hidden as long forgotten. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Thank you for visiting my blog! I am glad you enjoyed the post.


  4. History Girl says:

    Wonderful blog! Thanks for all the insights into such a piece of Americana.


  5. Northern Narratives says:

    Wow, very interesting, I bet there is a lot of hidden meaning in most children songs ๐Ÿ™‚ Judy


  6. Me too – though I never understood it! ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. I’m just stubbornly curious … the Stubborn Knitter? ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. “Fancy stuff” was a pretty good bluff!


  9. It’s funny how songs get repeated through the years to the point where we’re still singing them but we have no idea what they mean! ๐Ÿ™‚


  10. Me too … This kind of stuff sticks in my head preparing me, no doubt, for a rousing game of Jeopardy one day. ๐Ÿ™‚


  11. Thanks for reading my blog; I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Re terms: Yes I did switch terms without explanation didn’t I? Oooops. The first colonists in the 15th century (the Mayflower pilgrims) were British, but England was not the only country to establish a colonial presence: Holland, France and Spain were also represented. (For instance, there was a Swedish-Finnish colony called “New Sweden” on the Delaware River and a Dutch colony called “New Amsterdam” on an island now called Manhattan!) That said, by the 18th century England was the major presence on the North American coast. Over time as colonists put down roots and new generations were born, generations less likely to view themselves less as British, Dutch, French, or Spanish (etc.) and more as, simply, Americans – which ultimately contributed to the birth of the American Revolution.

    Lore has it that the Dutch colonists first called the British colonists “Yankees” and then the British regulars called all colonists Yankees. Now, as you may know, Yankee has become a generic descriptor for an “American” (U.S.), though the southern states call non-southeners Yankees. ๐Ÿ™‚


  12. Ha Ha …afraid so!!!!!


  13. Hmmm, apparently you were quite the lyricist! ๐Ÿ™‚


  14. You’re welcome, of course! Thanks for reading my blog!


  15. Curls & Q says:

    Fun and informative! ๐Ÿ˜Ž Did you see The New York Times Crossword for Sunday, July 8? It was titles” Yankee Doodle Dandles” and the theme was noted Americans “Born on the Fourth of July”: Calvin Coolidge,Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Steinbrenner, Ann Landers (her twin wasn’t in the puzzle), and Lionel T. Rilling. Your post segued nicely! ๐Ÿ˜Ž BTW, as a kid I asked my teacher why macaroni and she said it was because of the “fancy stuff” put on the hats.” ๐Ÿ˜Ž Now I understand exactly why it was called that!


  16. minaandme says:

    I just learned my fascinating tidbit for the day ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks! I shall have to share this new knowledge! I always wondered what on earth that song was talking about.


  17. Tracey says:

    I had no idea! I love little tidbits from history like that!


  18. I love this! Maybe instead of the Sweaty Knitter you should be the Knitting Etymologist.


  19. I have always wondered at the meaning of this verse. The only other use of the word (as far I was concerned as a child with hearing loss) was transatlantic radio and that didn’t exactly clear up the mystery! One thing though, you first state that the term was a derogative term for British colonials then state that the British were calling the American colonials this. Does this change of phrase reflect a change of identity over a period, settlers in America who were first perceived as being British by some other group but later had become American and so viewed with derision by Old World British troops? Thank you for sharing this amazing history, I love how the simple, innocent rhymes of childhood are neither! ๐Ÿ™‚


  20. Very informative, thanks! Always loved that marcaroni line!


  21. You reminded me of my childhood!!!! “…Yankee Doodle Doodle Dee Yankee Doodle Dandy, Yankee Doodle Doodle Dee Yankee Doodle Dandy”!!!!!


  22. tgonzales says:


    Thanks so much for providing the background for Yankee Doodle Dandy. I always wondered what it meant; as it was one of the songs that I played on the piano. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing.



  23. Exactly!
    Can’t wait to bring that one out at a cocktail party. ๐Ÿ™‚


  24. And what a tidbit with which to impress others! ๐Ÿ™‚


  25. I feel so smart now that I know where the macaroni bit comes from!
    Thanks for making me more clevererer. ๐Ÿ™‚


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