The Macaroni In ‘Yankee Doodle’ Is Not What You Think
All these years I was thinking about pasta.
“Yankee Doodle went to town
riding on a pony,
stuck a feather in his cap
and called it macaroni.”
These are the first few lines of the classic American ditty “Yankee Doodle,” a tune that almost every American child has sung at some point in their lives. However, despite its place within good ole fashioned American pageantry, I’m pretty sure very few people even know who Yankee Doodle is.
But perhaps the most mystifying part of the song is the line where Yankee Doodle “sticks a feather in his cap and calls it macaroni.” Well, thanks to a piece I came across on the Atlas Obscura, I learned that the meaning behind this lyric has nothing to do with food.
According to Michael Waters, the “macaroni” in Yankee Doodle actually refers to a “fashion trend that began in the 1760s among aristocratic British men.” It is important to note that originally Yankee Doodle was a British song written to disgrace Americans. As Waters points out, it was only until after the Revolutionary War that the Americans “reclaimed” the song and it became patriotic. As a result, some of the lines don’t really make much sense in the context of American pride—especially the macaroni line.
Essentially, “macaroni” was a slang term used by these Brits to describe someone who’s sophisticated and cultured. By saying Yankee Doodle—who could be perceived as the average American—sticks a feather in his cap and calls it “macaroni,” the Brits were implying that Americans thought they were more sophisticated than they really were. Gee, and all these years I thought we were singing about a piece of elbow macaroni.