(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 dödel, 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 à 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. 🙂