Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony.
Stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.
Every red-blooded American boy and girl learns to sing "Yankee Doodle" as a child. Around the Fourth of July, the music seems to play everywhere and kids sing along cheerfully, with little or no idea of what the lyrics mean.
The roots of the song's lyrics reach back to the American Revolutionary War. British troops would jeer at the colonists, calling them "country bumpkins" and making fun of their accents, their clothing, and the horses they rode. The British considered any horse under 16 hands (64 inches) at the shoulder to be no more than a pony, and scoffed at the smaller horses ridden by the colonists.
"Doodle" was a derogatory term meaning fool or simpleton. A "dandy" was someone who put on airs and pretended to be of a higher station, often by dressing up in fancy clothing. The word "macaroni" referred to something very posh, at the height of fashion, in reference to Italy and France, countries considered the center of haute couture. The idea was that a provincial American would consider any small adornment, even a feather in his cap, to be "macaroni."
The lyrics of the original "Yankee Doodle" are generally attributed to one Dr. Richard Shackburg (alternatively spelled Schuckberg or Shuckburgh), a British surgeon who was overcome with merriment at the sight of some of the colonists he met during the French and Indian War. The British adopted the song as a way to poke fun at the colonists.
The last two lines presume that the "country bumpkins" were hard put to master the elaborate steps of traditional English dances, and insinuate that the colonists had low morals and that colonial women were to be had for the asking. (As with many children's songs, the story behind the lyrics isn't exactly kid-friendly!)
When the British marched on Lexington and Concord in 1775, a new verse was sung:
Yankee Doodle came to town
For to buy a flintlock
We will tar and feather him
And so will we John Hancock!
Hancock was considered a main instigator of the Revolution, and as such appeared in many songs of the day.
The colonists, instead of getting angry, simply adopted it as their own song. By the time the war was over, there were a reputed 190 verses, and singing it in a tavern could last until the morning hours. Today, at least half a dozen verses are fairly well-known and happily sung as a symbol of the unbreakable spirit of the Revolution.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.