"Yankee Doodle" - from whence and when, and how in the OED?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Jan 24 03:22:09 UTC 2010

What is the collective wisdom on the origins of "Yankee Doodle", both
tune and phrase?  I was leafing through Carl Holliday's _The Wit and
Humor of Colonial Days (1607-1800)_ (1912, Lippincott).  He says (p
114 and thereafter), but without any source citations:

1)  The tune goes back to the 12th century.

2)  In Holland it early acquired (Halliday doesn't say when, but in
his narrative this precedes mention of Charles I) the words "Yanker
dudel, doodle down".

[Is the Dutck word "Jonkheer" or "Jonker" plausible here?]

3)  In ridicule of Cromwell, the words "Yankee doodle came to town  /
Upon a Kentish pony; / He stuck a feather in his cap / And called him
[sic; "himself"?] macaroni" were written.

[For "macaroni", as pasta it goes back in English to Jonson,
1616.  But the earliest OED quotations for the "dandy or fop" sense
are 1764.  Either the above is not genuine, or we might have a 110+
year antedating for the "dandy" sense -- if a primary source can be found!]

4)  Dr. Richard Shuckburg wrote new words.  (The lines Halliday
quotes do not include the words "Yankee Doodle".)

Then I went to Google Books.  The above narrative (1-4) seems to go
back to 1855, in the Duyckincks' _Cyclopaedia of American literature:
embracing personal and ..._, Volume 1 - Page 463, col. 2, in an
article titled "Ballad Literature".  I confirmed this via
download.  (The 1853 _The Church of the People_ GB-hit is actually
Oct. 1856, page 117 [2nd pagination], col. 2.)

The OED 1989 says "The tune is said to have been composed in 1755 by
Dr. Shuckburgh, a surgeon in Lord Amherst's army".  Not if the tune
was around in the 12th century, and if Shuckburgh just rewrote the lyrics.

For "Yankee Doodle", the OED goes back to 1768, and Fred Shapiro
found 1767 (ADS-L archives).  If the Cromwell assertion is correct,
the phrase would date around 1650 -- but with a different meaning for
"Yankee". General Cromwell might very well have been called a
"Jonkheer", which one on-line Dutch dictionary defines as a "member
of the Prussian aristocracy noted especially for militarism".

Any authentication for the Duyckincks' claims?  Have I missed the
definitive analysis somewhere?


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list