Thursday, July 10, 2008

Proud macaroni

Perhaps because I've been daydreaming about Thomas Jefferson lately (more Jefferson in Paris than Jefferson on the two dollar bill, note), I recently had the tune "Yankee Doodle" in my head (the flute version). Which led me to wonder for the first time ever: What does it mean? I think I understand all the words in the song individually, but together they're like a bad macaroni salad (though perhaps that's a redundant turn of phrase).

Let's review the lyrics as I remember them:
Yankee Doodle went to town, a'ridin' on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle, keep it up!
Yankee Doodle Dandy!
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy!


A bit of research seems to suggest mine is the grade school version (the real one having many more painful stanzas). It was originally sung by the British in mockery of New England dandies who tried to be sophisticated but ended up looking like doodles (feathers apparently not cool). Macaroni (or maccheroni as it is actually spelled in Italian, interestingly) was the derisive term for well-travelled Brits whose grand tours around Europe made them really stuck up and annoying with their affected foreign culture and manners ("I don't know, I just feel so naked without a scarf on at all times").

Oh man, Americans have never liked being called gauche. The only choice was to appropriate the song and sing it back in their pale little faces. ("We're from America, couldn't be prouder. If you can't hear us, we'll yell a little louder.) Which is how Yankee Doodle came to be part of the Americana medley we sang at our fifth-grade pageant, "Fifty States Night" (I representing the noble state of New Jersey). And to be stuck in my mind at this very moment. 

It won't make History Detectives but it's nice to know.

3 comments:

Peter Pocket - Colonial Editiion said...

New Peter Pocket: American Revolutionary comes with a miniature box of macaroni a little boy can cook in his EZ Bake Campfire Grill. Be careful not to let your youngster stick the hot macaroni in his hat!

Julie & Captain said...

DH and I were driving north to Michigan and caught a bit on the radio explaining Yankee Doodle and they pretty much said what you said. I wish I could have figured out what station it was on - probably NPR? - before it cut out... it was really cool!

I like your summer picture - looks great, almost like Lake Michigan ;)

Any advice about moving to another country??

Swiss Ms. said...

I'm glad my internet research was borne out by a (probably) more reputable source. I'm somewhat limited in my English language resources here so ye olde internet is what I have to rely on... don't even have a real English dictionary along.

I will have to think whether I have any moving advice. Most of our difficulties have been related to not knowing the language and Switzerland being ridiculously expensive, problems you shouldn't have. Maybe:

Check what the withdrawal/exchange rate fees are at your bank and on your credit cards?
Pack carefully?
Get a US Skype number people can call?
Don't bring your cat?

I don't think I have anything really clever or helpful for you.

Happy trails!