Yankee Doodle Dandy

The song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which I have heard and sung on and off my entire life, turns out to have originated in the 18th century before the American Revolution. The term “Yankee Doddle Dandy” was an insult invented by the British to apply to the Americans resisting Britain. It suggested that the rebels were both gay and bumbling.

The song was written at Fort Crailo around 1755 by British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh while campaigning in Rensselaer, New York. Over time, the Americans adopted the song for themselves, and it became something of a patriotic hit. It is now that state song of Connecticut.

Macaroni was considered a food of great delicacy in eighteenth century America, and it became the name of a fashionable wig. That led to use of the word to refer to a fop who gave undue attention to his attire. My Merriam-Webster Unabridged offers several definitions of macaroni; one is “a precious affected young man.” The song suggests the foolishness of a youngster who thought that putting a feather in his cap would make him into macaroni, that is, a man of style.

The first line of the song, both words and music, is quoted in George M. Cohan’s song, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” That song was written for the musical Little Johnny Jones, that opened at the Liberty Theater in New York on November 7, 1904.

So here I am, at an advanced age, singing a song that, unbeknownst to me, originated before the U.S. gained its independence from the U.K. Will wonders never cease?

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