Yankee Doodle Stuck A Feather In His Hat And Called It “Macaroni” To Refer To What?
Answer: British Fashion
Millions of American children have sung the lyrics to the song Yankee Doodle, Yankee Doodle went to town / Riding on a pony; / He stuck a feather in his hat, / And called it macaroni, and thought this Yankee Doodle fellow to be quite a fool for thinking a feather was a piece of pasta.
Back in the 18th century, however, the word macaroni had an entirely different usage, lost to us today. Prior to the American Revolution, British military officers sang the song as a bit of mockery/ribbing directed towards American officers who they viewed as disheveled and disorganized. The term “macaroni” was in common use at the time in British culture to refer to men preoccupied with fashion, affections of adornment (such as enormous wigs), very stylized speech, and fine dining.
It’s in the last element, fine dining, that the word returns full-circle to the pasta-origins we understand it to have. Upper-class young men in Europe would, as a sort of coming-of-age event, tour Europe in a tradition known as the “Grand Tour”. More than a few young English men toured Italy, loved the food, and brought the food home with them. They also brought home fashions from various European cities. People jokingly referred to this wave of highly fashionable and image-conscious men as “The Macaroni Club” because of their preoccupation with Italian cuisine and fashion; over time the word macaroni came to simply mean any man who dressed and acted in such a fashion.
So perhaps, while the song was meant to mock those disheveled Yankees, our Yankee Doodle Dandy can be seen thumbing his nose as the entire idea of upper-class fashion and saying “This feather might as well be pasta.”
Image courtesy of Lewis Wadpole Library.