While weeding a few weeks ago--yep, we’re still weeding--I came across Uncertain Glory: Folklore and the American Revolution by Tristram Potter Coffin. We have many books on folklore, and I was in a weeding groove, not stopping for sentimentality, just assessing and removing books. Uncertain Glory needs to thank me for sparing it because I opened to a page that explains the origin of the Yankee Doodle song.
The tune itself is a folk tune, popular throughout 17th century England and Ireland. However, this Dutch folk rhyme somehow got itself attached to the ditty. Just try NOT singing along, will you?
Yanker, dudel, doodle, down,
Diddle, dudel, lanther;
Yanker, viver, voover, vown
Botermilk and tanther.
Apparently this is all about “Jan, the doodle, and his wages of milk plus a tenth of the harvested grain” (91). (This book doesn’t happen to explain what the heck a doodle is--I like how the explanation is all “oh, you know, Jan the doodle” like that’s a thing! Special thanks to the OED for explaining that a doodle is a silly or foolish fellow.)
Things really get interesting (or at least interesting to me) on the next page, as the evolution of the Yankee Doodle song come to the part most perplexing to the modern Yankee Doodle singer: macaroni. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni? I never got that. Until now! Allow me to quote at length:
“In the 15 years just before the American Revolution, there was a fad in London that centered on the Italian food. Macaroni clubs were formed. The men wore immense top knots of hair and small cocked hats. Clothes were tight-fitting, and walking sticks with long tassels were carried everywhere. Foppish manners were cultivated, and people embracing the fad served macaroni at all meals, developed macaroni schools of art, macaroni music. By extension, the word could be used to describe almost anything that was ‘in’ with the group. In the supposedly Cromwellian rime, the Lord Protector sticks a feather in a knot, a macaroni, on his hat, and putting on foppish ways, enters town on a silly Kentish pony. Such references tend to date this particular variant of the rime no earlier than the 1760s, and it is certain some other derogatory verse was sung to the old tune that day in Oxford more than 100 years before” (92).
Despite the fact that there is no source for this, I was enchanted at the idea of the macaroni clubs! Macaroni schools of art! Macaroni music! I think it’s obvious why clothes were tight-fitting: macaroni at every meal.
First, I thought this was hysterical. What funny people, getting so excited about macaroni! And then I thought about fads in general, and turned to Panati’s Parade of Fads, Follies, and Manias: The Origins of Our Most Cherished Obsessions by Charles Panati. Panati’s book reminded me that the following fads were just as weird and yet occupied the time of many, many people:
Cabbage Patch Kids
There’s no accounting for what with capture the imagination of a people, is there?
Coffin, Tristram Potter. Uncertain Glory: Folklore and the American Revolution: Folklore and the American Revolution. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1971.
Panati, Charles. Panati’s Parade of Fads, Follies, and Manias: The Origins of Our Most Cherished Obsessions. HarperPerrenial, 1991.