On U.S. Independence Day (July 4), while attending barbeques or viewing fireworks, it is not uncommon to hear bands playing and children singing “Yankee Doodle:”
Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.
No matter what region, if raised in the U.S. you know this song.
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!
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. 🙂
(Note: This is a slightly shortened and edited version of my last post for Independence Day. For more information about the origin of the term “Yankee,” see my post of July 14, 2012.)