Several months ago, a girlfriend of mine on Facebook, posted a question, “Why did Yankee Doodle put a feather in his cap and call it Macaroni?” Curiosity got the best of me and of course, I looked it up. What I found was a whole history on men’s fashion and, given my love of history, couldn’t stop reading about it. Thus, I felt compelled to share it with all of you.
Dissecting the Phrase in Question (via Wikipedia):
As a term Doodle first appeared in the early seventeenth century, and is thought to derive from the Low German dudel or dödel, meaning “fool” or “simpleton”. It was thought that this term was used by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War.
A dandy (also known as a beau or gallant) is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self. Historically, especially in late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, a dandy, who was self-made, often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle despite coming from a middle-class background.
The linkage of clothing with political protest had become a particularly English characteristic during the 18th century. Given these connotations, dandyism can be seen as a political protestation against the rise of levelling egalitarian principles, often including nostalgic adherence to feudal or pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of “the perfect gentleman” or “the autonomous aristocrat”, though paradoxically, the dandy required an audience.
Nichole’s translation: Think “metrosexual”
A macaroni (or formerly maccaroni) in mid-18th century England, was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected and epicene manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who “exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion” in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling.
Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour adopted the Italian word maccherone – a boorish fool in Italian – and said that anything that was fashionable or à la mode was ‘very maccaroni’. Horace Walpole wrote to a friend in 1764 of “the Macaroni Club, which is composed of all the traveled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses.” The “club” was not a formal one: the expression was particularly used to characterize fops who dressed in high fashion with tall, powdered wigs with a chapeau bras on top that could only be removed on the point of a sword. The macaronis were precursor to the dandies, who far from their present connotation of effeminacy came as a more masculine reaction to the excesses of the macaroni.
What This Phrase Meant in the Song
In the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, the first verse and chorus of “Yankee Doodle” derided the alleged poverty and rough manners of American-born colonists, suggesting that whereas a fine horse and gold-braided clothing (“mac[c]aroni“) were required to set a European apart from those around him, the average American’s means were so meager that ownership of a mere pony and a few feathers for personal ornamentation would qualify one of them as a “dandy” by comparison to and/or in the minds of his even less sophisticated compatriots. A slightly later Scottish border ballad, circa 1780, also features the word, but probably without all the contextual aspects of its more recent meaning. The original, full form of ‘dandy’ may have been jack-a-dandy. It was a vogue word during the Napoleonic Wars. In that contemporary slang, a “dandy” was differentiated from a “fop” in that the dandy’s dress was more refined and sober than the fop’s.
How It’s Defined Today
In the 21st century, the word dandy is a jocular, often sarcastic adjective meaning “fine” or “great”; when used in the form of a noun, it refers to a well-groomed and well-dressed man, but often to one who is also self-absorbed.
Nichole’s Comments: Once dissected and digested, it’s interesting how certain adjectives to describe a human being go “out of style” over time. Or, are used in a different manner as time goes on. It’s also interesting to see that over the course of history, human behavior (in this case men’s) doesn’t change much.