Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yankee Doodle

imageYankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni.


Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.



Have you ever really listened to or considered the words to “Yankee Doodle?”  imageFor many years, I never understood the why he called himself “macaroni.”  What is a macaroni?  He obviously wasn’t talking about the pasta.  I had always known that “Yankee Doodle” first started out as a song that was making fun of the the colonists as country bumpkins (an awkward and unsophisticated person), because that was how the English regarded most colonials at that time.  The term macaroni actually has more connotations than the song lets on.  Macaroni is a fancy and overdressed ("dandy") style of Italian clothing widely imitated in England at the time.  Young Englishmen who went on the Grand Tour of Europe to finish their studies (I will do a further post on the Grand Tour soon), spent much of their time in Italy.  They began to adopt Continental, and especially Italian, manners, fashions, and attitudes.


Those young men who returned form Italy with Italian fashion and ways were often made fun of for being effeminate.  imageBeing called a macaroni was not the same as the later terms of fops or dandy, which did not always, though mostly, had negative connotations.  Fop became a pejorative term for a foolish man over-concerned with his appearance and clothes in 17th century England.   A dandy (also known as a beau or gallant) is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self. Historically, especially in late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, a dandy, who was self-made, often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle despite coming from a middle-class background.  In present day, we often called these types of men metrosexuals.  A heterosexual man who takes on gay fashion and care in their appearance.


A macaroni in mid-18th century England, was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected and epicene manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion" in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling. Like a practitioner of macaronic verse, which mixed together English and Latin to comic effect, he mixed Continental affectations with his English nature, laying himself open to satire:


There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.


Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour imageadopted the Italian word maccherone – a boorish fool in Italian – and said that anything that was fashionable or à la mode was 'very maccaroni'. Horace Walpole wrote to a friend in 1764 of "the Macaroni Club, which is composed of all the traveled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses." The "club" was not a formal one: the expression was particularly used to characterize fops who dressed in high fashion with tall, powdered wigs with a chapeau bras on top that could only be removed on the point of a sword. The macaronis were precursor to the dandies, who far from their present connotation of effeminacy came as a more masculine reaction to the excesses of the macaroni.


In 1773, James Boswell was on tour in Scotland with the stout and serious-minded essayist and lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson, the least dandified of Londoners. Johnson was awkward in the saddle, and Boswell ribbed him: “You are a delicate Londoner; you are a maccaroni; you can't ride.”


antiquity10More often the not, the term macaroni, fop, or dandy was considered synonymous with homosexual (though homosexual is not a term that comes into existence until the late 1800s and early 1900s).  Needless to say, it was certainly not compliment to say that he “Stuck a feather in his hat; And called it macaroni.”  So the next time you hear the song “Yankee Doodle”  I hope that you will have a different understanding of the song.


Bobby said...

This was really interesting...Thanks Joe! You definitely learn something new every day.

Anonymous said...

Your posts always brighten my day! I knew the basics of this, but thanks for the full story!

And I like the doodle...

Peace <3

fan of casey said...

Joe: You make history interesting. When I hear that song I think of Mac n' Cheese. :-)

JoeBlow said...

Bobby, I'm glad you liked it,.

Jay, you are most welcome.

FOC: I used to always think of Mac n' Cheese too.

Brain Mechanic said...

this is great. thanks for posting. :)

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, Brian. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

JoeBlow said...

Brain Mechanic, sorry I wrote your name as Brian. Sometimes I am a little dyslexic.

JamTheCat said...

It's funny, but I keep thinking of the George M. Cohan song "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy", which makes fun of the whole concept. I had no idea it was a concept that was making fun of a concept. I love how twisty and turny this is, now.

JoeBlow said...

JamTheCat: I always think of the Cohen song too. The best often do make fun of concept that was making fun of a concept.

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