Yankee Doodle: Lyrics, Meaning & History

Instructor: Ashley Miller

Ashley works in Higher Education and holds a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership

Most American children at one point in school have learned the lyrics to Yankee Doodle when talking about the founding of the United States and the history of the American colonies. But what do the words really mean? We'll discuss the actual lyrics, their meaning, and the history behind the well-known children's version of the song.

Yankee Doodle: A Brief Introduction

During the Revolutionary War era in America, settlers would commonly walk around town singing songs that celebrated the American colonies and poked fun at their British homeland. The song Yankee Doodle is believed to have originated with British troops during the American Revolution as a way to make fun of the colonists. This song has taken on many different versions over the years to include an estimated 120 verses. However, according to the Library of Congress, Yankee Doodle quickly became a form of prideful boasting after the colonists saw Britain surrender at Yorktown in 1781. It became a sort of 'hey, you made fun of us, but we got you back' moment for the newly free America.

Yankee Doodle Lyrics

Over the course of history the lyrics to the original version of 'Yankee Doodle' have been drastically shortened. Below are the lyrics to what the journalist George P. Morris believed to be the original song, written during the 1770s. Morris wrote about the original version in his 1941 publication 'The Original Yankee Words'.

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-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,
And with the girls be handy.

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


Yankee Doddle Meaning

During the 18th century, a Yankee was a term used by the British to refer to the colonists who served alongside their troops during the French and Indian War. According to the A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, by Mitford M. Mathews, the colonists were perceived as not very organized and thus labeled a Yankee. A Doodle was also a way to refer to a 'fool', or someone extremely gullible. When the song says that Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni, it refers to a popular hairstyle at the time called 'a macaroni' or men's wig. If you think about all the pictures you've ever seen of Benjamin Franklin with his long curly white hair, or George Washington's large curls around his ears --those were actually wigs men wore to show power or high social status.

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