Meaning of “Yankee Doodle”
Like any good folk song, the exact origin of “Yankee Doodle” is unknown. What researchers do know is that it sprang from Medieval Europe. And even though the tune became popular in the United States via England, as alluded to earlier, where it originally sprang from is by and large a mystery.
British military personnel sang “Yankee Doodle” in America even before the Revolutionary War. They used it to mock “Yankees”, as in soldiers from the United States. Readers should note that this predated the official formation of the United States in 1776. Based on this, a “Yankee” was more identifiable with a geographical region (i.e. New England) than a nation per se.
However, throughout the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the song rather began being used by American soldiers, albeit with modified lyrics, against the British troops. And by the time the Thirteen Colonies actually emerged victorious from this conflict, the song had more or less solidified its place in American history as a symbol of patriotism.
That said, some of the original British disses still remain. For instance, equating a Yankee with a “macaroni”. “Macaroni” was the name given to British men who followed a flamboyant fashion trend in the late 18th century that was characterized by comical (i.e. foolish) and effeminate behaviors. Thus, as the New York Times puts it, the British soldiers were basically calling their “Yankee” counterparts “gay and bumbling”.
In a more-positive light “Yankee Doodle” was also used as a popular dance tune, in a manner somewhat similar to the dance-battle movies we see today. This can be partially ascertained from the chorus, in which listeners are told to “mind the music and the step”.
What ultimately differentiates “Yankee Doodle” from most other folk songs is not only the fact that it has been transformed into a well-known symbol of American national pride but also that the lyrics themselves hold a strong historical significance.