Yankee Doodle: How Colonial Americans Embraced a British Insult

Yankee Doodle: How Colonial Americans Embraced a British Insult

Even if "Yankee Doodle" is a little nonsensical, modern Americans consider it a proudly patriotic song. But the ditty actually began as a song that British soldiers sang to mock colonial Americans. Before the American Revolution, it was common for young British men to leave home and travel around Europe, picking up new fashions and trendy mannerisms along the way. They returned wearing ostentatious clothing and raving about the things they'd encountered, such as the exotic Italian pasta known as macaroni. As a result, "macaroni" is exactly what others called these 18th-century hipsters. So when a Yankee doodle -- literally, an American simpleton -- stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni, he was doing two things that deserved ridicule: thinking he could be as stylish as British macaroni by putting a feather in his hat, and wanting to be like British macaroni in the first place. The British efforts backfired when American soldiers adopted the song as their own, adding extra verses about the glory of the Continental Army. "Yankee Doodle" still kept its reference to ostentatious fashion, however, and the shortened form of "dood" became synonymous with "dandy." It later came to refer to clueless city dwellers who went to "dude ranches," and finally came to simply be slang for "man" or "person."

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Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    The word "macaroni" in the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was originally a British insult toward Americans. (0:05)

  • 2

    "Macaroni" was once a catch-all term that described the pretentious elites of 18th century England. (0:29)

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