90 Miles From Tyranny : Yankee Doodle - The First Deplorable....

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Yankee Doodle - The First Deplorable....


A Short Analysis of the ‘Yankee Doodle’ Song

‘Yankee Doodle’ is a classic American song, a patriotic tune that is also the state anthem of Connecticut. But where did the words to ‘Yankee Doodle’ come from? And what is the history of this popular tune? Before we delve into an analysis of these issues, here’s a reminder of the best-known verse of ‘Yankee Doodle’:

Yankee Doodle came to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

As so often with classic nursery rhymes, Iona and Peter Opie help us to get to the bottom of the history and origin of ‘Yankee Doodle’. In The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford Dictionary of Nusery Rhymes), the Opies tell us that the Boston Journal of the Times mentioned ‘the Yankee Doodle Song’ in September 1768, calling it ‘the capital piece in the band of music’. This appears to be the earliest known reference to ‘Yankee Doodle’ in print. A few years later, during the American War of Independence, the British troops took up the words and tune of ‘Yankee Doodle’, singing it in mockery of their American or ‘Yankee’ enemies.

But then, following the British troop’s rather Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, something appears to have changed. The American troops appropriated – or, perhaps more accurately, re-appropriated – the song and began revelling in it as a paean to their national identity. The Opies quote from a British officer, who observed in 1777 that ‘the Americans gloried in it’ and that ‘Yankee Doodle’ was ‘played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the Grenadiers’ March’.

So much for the history of the song itself. But what is a ‘Yankee’ and, for that matter, a ‘Doodle’? Let’s take the last of these first. The word ‘Doodle’ first turns up in English in the early seventeenth century, probably derived from the Low German dudel, meaning ‘playing music badly’. So, the figure named in the song is named for an incompetent musician, although there may also be a link with the German Dödel, denoting a fool or simpleton. ‘Yankee’ is of uncertain origins, but the most plausible suggestion is that it comes from the Dutch Janke, a diminutive of the name Jan (i.e. John), which was a mocking name given to Dutch and English settlers in New England in the seventeenth century.

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