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 leisurely hobbies. Historically, a dandy who was self-made often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle, especially in late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, despite coming from a middle-class background. They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour and a feather in their hats. They also wore two fob watches—"one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not" ran their joking explanation. Their love of horse racing at Cheltenham and Bibury (both in England) can still be recognised today in the names of the 18th Century Macaroni Farm and Macaroni Woods near Eastleach, Gloucestershire, UK. The verse implies that Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought that simply sticking a feather in a cap would make them the height of fashion. Peter McNeil, professor of fashion studies, claims that the British were insinuating that the colonists were womanish and not very masculine.
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. 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.
"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, and claims that at this point the Americans embraced the song and made it their own, turning it back on those who had used it to mock them.
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.