Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni: Food, Penguin, or Fashion?
I’m still recalling the words to nursery rhymes after a period of not reciting them at all. At one point, I was trying to recall the words to Yankee Doodle because it’s a short, bouncy song for a walk down the street.
I’m also still reading little Toby any book he hands me. Even if it’s got way too much text for his attention span. We have some books that are clearly geared toward much older kids, but because of the shelf space we have, we keep all the children’s books in his room.
One of these books is about all the penguins in the world. I was pointing at the most exciting pictures on each page of this particular book and trying to speed-read the captions so I could give him a narration of the picture. It’s really hard to skim when you have a squirming toddler on your lap.
Toward the front of the book is a picture of a breed of penguin called Macaroni. And having recalled the words of Yankee Doodle recently, it just clicked for me, even though Toby soon wriggled out from behind the book. To refresh your memory, here are the lyrics of the first verse:
Yankee Doodle went to town
a-riding on a pony
stuck a feather in his cap
and called it macaroni.
(You might see where I’m going with this; let’s see if you’re right)
The song has never made sense to me. No matter how you position a feather, it’s not going to look like macaroni. But maybe Yankee Doodle was a naturalist, or maybe he had seen a picture of the newly-discovered Macaroni Penguins seen from the Falkland Islands. I can see how a straight feather stuck in the side of his cap might look like the side view of this penguin.
But then I looked around on good ol’ Wikipedia. (Because it’s so common, I almost wish I had a set of encyclopedias of my own; then again, they might be outdated or inefficient by the time they were finished printing.) On Wikipedia, I found the idea of a flamboyant fashion called, you guessed it: Macaroni. From these illustrations, I think the feather might have been sticking straight up.
And to think we’ve been cheerfully singing about the American misunderstandings about the precursors to gay men all these years. Or maybe we’ve just been singing about curly feathers; in my young years, my mental image while singing this song has always been of a straight feather, as in Robin Hood’s hat.
But it could have been a curly feather. And that looks like macaroni to me: