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Yankee Doodle Dandy: More than a Patriotic Song

How Yankee Doodle turned teasing and taunts on its head... and made a fabulous hat for the occasion!

“Yankee Doodle Dandy'' is a favorite at Primerrily. It’s also the state anthem of Connecticut. But this song hits more than a patriotic note. The origins of the term “Yankee Doodle Dandy'' are not as widely known as the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” So join us in the Treehouse as we share Dandy’s backstory, sing about him, and craft his famous cap (in which he stuck that famous feather… and we’ll explain the “macaroni”).

Yankee Doodle went to town

Riding on a pony

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni

Yankee Doodle keep it up

Yankee Doodle dandy

Mind the music and the step

Ad with the girls be handy

(abridged lyrics for kids)

A cheery tune with playful lyrics, who would think that the term “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was originally intended to mock the new American “Yankee”? But from the perspective of the British, particularly the elites, gritty pioneering Americans were viewed as “dödels,” which translates to “simpletons.” And a “dandy” is a man who places obsessive importance on appearance, fashion, and leisure. Macaroni -- meaning fashionable -- was the look that Yankee Doodle Dandy was going for merely by sticking a feather in his cap. So clearly, there is nothing flattering about being called a “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” In today’s vernacular, the British might ridicule with “Yankee poser!”

Sure, American style was not as refined as that of the British. After all, we were a scrappy new nation… but a scrappy and confident new nation. We were not going to let silly taunts get under our skin. How funny that this is something we love telling our kids! The simultaneously held values of confidence, humility, and fortitude enabled our revolutionary-era Americans to turn an insult on its head:

By 1781, when the British surrendered at Yorktown, being called a "Yankee Doodle" had gone from being an insult to a point of pride, and the song had become the new republic’s unofficial national anthem.”