What Macaroni Actually Means in ‘Yankee Doodle’

Some of my favorite songs in Mrs. Hobart’s music class at Gillette Elementary in San Antonio during the 1960s were “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious,” “Bo Weevil,” and “Yankee Doodle.” I often wondered what macaroni had to do with a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” So, over half of a century later, I decided to research it.

Lo and behold, the “macaroni” part of “Yankee Doodle” doesn’t literally mean a variety of pasta formed in narrow tubes.

There is in fact an explanation for the inclusion of the wheat noodle in the old patriotic classic that I so learned back in the day. It is not at all what I expected.

In order to understand why the word “macaroni” was used, it is first worth bringing up that “Yankee Doodle” was originally created by the British to ridicule Americans, but later American soldiers reclaimed the song during the Revolutionary War and held onto it, which is why we all know it by heart from singing it over and over again in our youth.

The opening, the part of the song I’m referring to, goes:

“Yankee Doodle went to town
“A-riding on a pony,
“Stuck a feather in his cap
“And called it macaroni.”

But why would he name the feather macaroni?

Well, since the song was written by Brits, a “macaroni” is one who took part in a particular fashion trend which started in 1760 among sophisticated, aristocratic British men.

The trend consisted of a look where men wore big wigs and slim clothing and the name was derived from the then-obscure Italian macaroni dish these Brits seemed to favor. In short, to be macaroni was to be fashionable. Source: Library of Congress

As the trend caught on, it varied over the years and the term took on a more broad definition – male femininity.

Macaronis were people “who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion,” with their tight pants and big, fancy wigs. Since men usually didn’t dress like this, not the “manly” ones at least, macaronis were also referred to as “hermaphrodites” or people belonging to neither the man or woman gender.

Another common view for macaronis was that of modern day “hipsters,” because they rejected traditional ways too. More lovely words for these rebels were “devils,” “reptiles,” “monkeys” and “butterflies.”

Finally, and perhaps the greatest perspective of all, macaronis were viewed as brave. Storytellers admired their individuality and often devised folk heroes who came from their kind of society, a society that was laughed at by the mainstream population on the surface yet envied on their insides.

Wow, macaronis were seriously ahead of their time.

However, “Yankee Doodle” wasn’t being complimented in the song but rather mocked by the British via satire, thinking Americans lacked class and were merely “simpletons,” or as it was called at the time, “doodles.” The British mocked the doodle for thinking that sticking a feather in one’s cap would make them macaroni.

The macaroni trend ended in the 1780s, a short-lived ordeal, but its legacy lived on mostly through the many caricatures created and the well-known song that is probably in your head as you’re reading this – “Yankee Doodle” – where a silly man puts a feather in his hat and thinks that’s fashionable.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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  1. My son has a long term girl friend from England. She said Americans often think of Brits as proper and sophisticated, but in Europe they think of Brits as drunkards.

    My wife and I watch no commercial TV (except she catches a Soap on her own), and much YouTube TV, most of the content is from England. In general, the shows (Narrow Boats, RV Life, Magnet Fishing, Metal Detecting) are calmer, they don’t sensationalize like analogous American YouTube shows. But the language drives me nuts.

    In England:
    Vitamin is said Vit a min not Vie ta min.
    Migraine is said Me-Graine
    Cookies are Biscuits, French Fries are Chips, Potato Chips are Crisps, Yards are Gardens, etc.
    On one show, Tomato said as To Mah to, Banana said as Bah non ah, and then house said as ouse?
    Squirrel is said Skwe (long e) ruhl. UGH.

    But, the mother, in one show we watch, and to be fair, she is not trying to make a sensational show, it will never be monetized as too few people view it and she does it for her friends and family, won’t let her kids call sweets as Candy, because Candy is the American word, and she clearly shows the distaste for us, and she tips her hand in calling McDonalds as Mac Donalds, as it is my understanding the British have little respect for the Irish but more so for the Scots. Another show that occasionally does a show where they eat snacks from various countries, they consistently dislike American food, items that my wife and I know are good stuff, and I have come to conclude that they are biased by training against America.

    The origin of the Macaroni Usage is fascinating, I had no idea,

    Liked by 1 person

      • Pierogies, Halushki, and Hrutka (Egg Cheese. There’s a sweet version. We only have it at Easter, and my wife makes ours without the additions that make it sweet, but we love it) from my childhood, still enjoyed today. We don’t make the pierogies, but buy them from a major manufacturer, or sometimes from local Specialty Stores.

        Spinach Pies, Cheese Pies (and Meat Pies, but we don’t buy those), Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Gyros, and Baklava, from the Middle Eastern Stores, the items are prepared in the store and more of a take-out (or, in England, a take-away).

        We tried an Ethiopian Restaurant, to this day, I am traumatized, the Flat Bread looked somewhat like human flesh, of course it wasn’t. LOL, but that food was a little too different.

        Anymore, we don’t eat much. We haven’t had much of the food above (except Pierogies, Halushki, and Hrutka) in years now, but it’s good.

        In our current neighborhood, we saw Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern people walking by recently. But there is a Mexican Burritos and Tacos Restaurant, a Vietnamese Tea Room, and the Middle Eastern people own a Food Mart type store, Milk, Break, etc., so the Mystery of the new people in the neighborhood is solved, and the dietary choices for the area are about to be expanded.

        My wife is wondering if the South Korean Food is generally spicy and if that’s why your Daughter has issues with the food in America being more bland? If you’re interested, I can link to it, or just look up DancingBacons on YouTube. A couple in Singapore that film their Eating Experiences, and the restaurants have some significant range of food offered.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Singapore, DancingBacons YouTube Channel. Some are simple at home items microwaved, but this one and others in the series, are fairly big speads of food. You only ever see the wife, and the husband’s hand. She has a cute smile when tasting food that she likes, but she doesn’t always smile. LOL, if the food isn’t something she likes, withholds the signature smile. They don’t talk, though the wife sounds fluent in English at the times I’ve heard her talk. I realize this is Singapore, just wanted to share this pleasant show that is non-political.

            $150 Japanese A5 Wagyu BBQ

            Liked by 1 person

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