The tune of Yankee Doodle is thought to be much older than the words, and many peoples knew the melody, including those of England, France, Holland (modern Netherlands), Hungary, and Spain. The earliest words of "Yankee Doodle" came from a Middle Dutch harvest song (which is thought to have followed the same tune), possibly dating back as far as 15th century Holland. It contained mostly nonsensical and out-of-place words, both in English and Dutch: "Yanker, didel, doodle down, Diddle, dudel, lanther, Yanke viver, voover vown, Botermilk und tanther." However, farm laborers in Holland at the time received as their wages "as much buttermilk (Botermilk) as they could drink, and a tenth (tanther) of the grain".
The term Doodle first appeared in English in the early seventeenth century and is thought to be derived from the Low German (a language close to Dutch) dudel, meaning “playing music badly” or Dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton". The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness.Dandies were men who placed particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisure hobbies. A self-made "Dandy" was a British middle-class man from the late 18th to early 19th century who impersonated an aristocratic lifestyle. They notably wore silk strip cloth, stuck feathers in their hats, and bore two fob watch accessories simultaneously (two pocket watches with chains)—"one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not". This time was the height of "dandyism" in London, when men wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour, accompanied with a feather in their hat.
The macaroni wig was an extreme example of such dandyism, popular in England at the time. The term macaroni was used to describe a fashionable man who dressed and spoke in an outlandishly affected and effeminate manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion" in terms of clothes, fastidious eating, and gambling.
In British conversation, the term "Yankee Doodle Dandy" implied unsophisticated misappropriation of high-class fashion, as though simply sticking a feather in one's cap would make one to be noble. Peter McNeil, professor of fashion studies, claims that the British were insinuating that the colonists were low-class men lacking masculinity, emphasizing that the American men were womanly.
Traditions place its origin in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial "Yankees" with whom they served in the French and Indian War, apparently written c. 1755 by British Army surgeon Dr. Richard Schuckburgh while campaigning in upper New York. The British troops sang it to make fun of their stereotype of the American soldier as a Yankee simpleton who thought that he was stylish if he simply stuck a feather in his cap.
It was also popular among the Americans as a song of defiance. As per the American Library of Congress, the Americans added additional verses to the song, mocking the British troops and hailing the Commander of the Continental armyGeorge Washington. By 1881, Yankee doodle had turned from being an insult to being a song of national pride.
One version of the Yankee Doodle lyrics is generally attributed to Dr. Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon. According to one story, Dr. Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch. According to Etymology Online, "The current version seems to have been written in 1776 by Edward Bangs, a Harvard sophomore who also was a Minuteman."
"Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — 'Dang them', returned he, 'they made us dance it till we were tired' — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears."
The earliest known version of the lyrics comes from 1755 or 1758, as the date of origin is disputed:
Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission;
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant Coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.
(Note that the sheet music which accompanies these lyrics reads, "The Words to be Sung through the Nose, & in the West Country drawl & dialect.")
For this reason, the town of Billerica is the "home" of Yankee Doodle,
Another pro-British set of lyrics believed to have used the tune was published in June 1775 following the Battle of Bunker Hill:
The seventeen of June, at Break of Day,
The Rebels they supriz'd us,
With their strong Works, which they'd thrown up,
To burn the Town and drive us.
There is another version attributed to Edward Bangs, a student at Harvard College, who wrote a ballad with fifteen verses which circulated in Boston and surrounding towns in 1775 or 1776. Yankee Doodle was also played at the British surrender at Saratoga in 1777.
On February 6, 1788, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a vote of 186 to 168. To the ringing of bells and the booming of cannon, the delegates trooped out of Brattle Street Church. Before many days had passed, the citizens sang their convention song to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." Here are the lyrics to their song:
President John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts bought a pony for his daughter Caroline while he was in the White House. The family named it "Macaroni" after the song Yankee Doodle, although the name refers to the feathered cap rather than the pony.
The children's cartoon series Roger Ramjet (1965) adapts "Yankee Doodle" as its theme song: "Roger Ramjet and his Eagles/Fighting for our freedom/Fly through in and outer space/Not to join 'em, but to beat 'em/Roger Ramjet, he's our man/Hero of our nation/For his adventures, just be sure/and stay tuned to this station". Ramjet's four child sidekicks, the "American Eagle Squadron", are named Yank, Doodle, Dan, and Dee.
A Sesame Street parody of the song was done by music writer Don Music, who centered the song around cooking macaroni. In the song, Yankee Doodle stayed at home and cooked macaroni in a pot for his pony.
^Luzader, John F. (2008). Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution. New York: Savas Beatie. p. 335. ISBN978-1-932714-44-9.
^Gen. George P. Morris - "Original Yankee Words", The Patriotic Anthology, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. publishers, 1941. Introduction by Carl Van Doren. Literary Guild of America, Inc., New York, NY.
^Berg, Jerome S. (1999). On the Short Waves, 1923-1945: Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio. McFarland. p. 104. ISBN0-7864-0506-6.