WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Yankey Doodle

Scottish poet Alexander Smith (1830-1867) wrote, “I would rather be remembered by a song than by a victory.” Although it didn’t start out that way, the colonists in America managed to be remembered by both.

History is full of songs of worship, work, entertainment, and satire. As opposition to British rule in Colonial America grew, so did the number of songs directly lampooning and insulting King George III. British soldiers promptly responded with songs satirizing Colonials as backward, ignorant bumpkins. Picture it as MTV’s Yo Momma, Georgian style.

One such British tune told the story of a ragamuffin Yankey simpleton, a “doodle.”

Yankey Doodle came to town,
For to buy a firelock,
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock.

But what began as a derogatory song against – let us not forget – fellow English countrymen, was soon appropriated by its victims. Those upstart Colonials wrote their own verses that ridiculed the British, praised the Continental Army, and venerated its commander, one Captain George Washington. By the end of the war, the term “Yankey Doodle” had undergone a change in spelling, and from slander to boast. Some of the new lyrics:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

There was Captain Washington,
Upon a slapping stallion,
Giving orders to his men-
I guess there were a million.

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

The Yankie Doodles Intrenchments Near Boston 1776. "Boston1775". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

The Yankie Doodles Intrenchments Near Boston 1776, a cartoon from a loyalist Boston newspaper. “Boston 1775.” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.










Yankey Doodle (noun)

A booby, or country lout; a name given to the New England men in North America; general appellation for an American.  Also Yanke or Yankie; now Yankee.

The caricature of a rough, slovenly, and destitute Yankey Doodle has also been replaced for posterity. It seems that history, and its pictures, are the domain of the victors.

The Spirit of '76 (also popularly referred to as "Yankee Doodle") by A.M. Willard,

The Spirit of ’76 (also popularly referred to as “Yankee Doodle”) by A.M. Willard,











All definitions and/or examples taken from Online Etymological DictionaryCant: A Gentleman’s Guide, and/or 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Information on the origins and alterations of the song, “Yankee Doodle,” courtesy Billerica Colonial Minute Men.