Yankee Doodle is probably the most famous song from American history. Sing along with me now… let me hear you in the back!
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.
Although this song is revered as a part of American culture, its original intent was to make fun of Americans! If we dissect the words it reveals some interesting facts about the origin of this song.
The word Yankee may have come from Dutch colonists in the new world, referring to their colonial British neighbours. The Dutch nickname Janneke (the J is pronounced as a Y), translates to “Johnny” and would have been used in the same respect as “Jack”, or “Buster” when talking to a stranger. Another theory suggests it originates with the Cherokee word eankke, meaning coward. Either way… not very nice.
Doodle is another not-so-nice term, meaning the same thing as country bumpkin, hillbilly, or hick. So we have this Johnny guy who has the nerve to ride into town on a donkey. What an un-cultured oaf! But wait, there’s more… This Yankee Doodle fellow is soooo un-cultured… (how un-cultured is he?) …He dares stick a feather in his cap and call that macaroni? Oh, this is ripe for parody.
The macaroni in question has nothing to do with pasta. Rather, macaroni was a popular British term of the era used to describe men who took fashion to ridiculous heights. Also known as fops, popinjays, or dandies (which comes into our song in the chorus), they would typically be known for their extravagant dress and comically tall powdered wigs. (they often required a stick to remove their hats) The modern day equivalent, though not near as extreme, would be called a metrosexual.
The song dates back to the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain in North America, where American colonists (who technically weren’t quite Americans yet) fought alongside British soldiers. This song was originally sung by the British to poke fun at their colonial counterparts who were seen as scruffy, disorganized and generally not near as culturally sophisticated as the Europeans.
Throughout the years the specific verses changed to meet the needs of the singer, often becoming a parody of a specific event. In the American Revolutionary war, the song was changed by the British to become more aggressive and taunting against the Americans, but was soon flipped around and used to taunt right back.
One things is for sure, guys. Feathers in caps equals fashion faux-pas.