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The Macaroni in ‘Yankee Doodle’ Is Not What You Think (atlasobscura.com)
142 points by samclemens on Aug 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

The author is trying to say there's some gay aspect to this, but it's really just a country vs. city thing. That goes back a long way, at least to the Roman Empire. There's also the Britain vs. the rest of the world thing, which was a big deal during the days of the British Empire.

The "macaroni" outfits shown are only a slight exaggeration of 18th century European male formal dress. The 20th century equivalent would be a zoot suit vs. a business suit.

The author quotes numerous original sources from the time that commented on the 'gay aspect' of macaronis.

They make the argument that this commentary, in particular caricatures, were a driving force behind the macaroni's change in perception in the public eye.

Perhaps these caricatures were motivated by a city vs country thing, but seeing as there were caricatures created in the cities this seems unlikely.

English commentators... variously referred to macaronis as "that doubtful gender," "hermaphrodites," and "amphibious creatures."

One song described a macaroni as thus: "His taper waist, so strait and long, / His spindle shanks, like pitchfork prong, / To what sex does the thing belong? / ’Tis call’d a Macaroni."

The Oxford Magazine similarly described the macaroni as not belonging to the gender binary: "There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male, nor female, a thing of neuter gender, lately started up among us. It is called a Macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasure, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion."

in the early 1770s, Mary Darly, a cartoonist by trade, devoted so much energy to caricaturing macaronis that her store in London became known as "The Macaroni Print Shop." Darly’s ridicule of macaronis became the first widespread use of the caricature as a means of social commentary.

What would be comments on a "gay aspect" today aren't necessarily so 200 years ago, even if the wording is the same. The past is a foreign country.

Your third quote is especially unpersuasive; it lists "neither male nor female" side by side with many other obviously hyperbolic insults, all of which are to the effect "they're unnatural". And one of them specifically says that macaronis are given to womanizing.

The word "gay" may have changed in meaning from "cheerful to homosexual", but being referred to as "that doubtful gender," "hermaphrodites," and "amphibious creatures," or having questions asked about "to what sex [the thing belongs]?" or being described as "a kind of animal, neither male, nor female, a thing of neuter gender" leaves very little to the imagination.

The fact that it was noteworthy and the main focus of commentary also implies that it deviated from the norms of the time.

You are conflating gender with sexuality. It may be a recent thing to explicitly differentiate between them in discourse, but gender was still distinct at the time - to insult a man's masculinity would clearly not in all contexts imply you were calling him a homosexual. In fact I'm sure in a majority of cases it would not imply that, since insults to masculinity were and still are quite commonplace.

More specifically, hermaphroditism does not have any clear implication of homosexuality, and a neuter gender has an implication of no sexuality. That doubtful gender is the strongest possible insinuation, but still weak given it clearly targets gender.

These all seem to be immasculating insults, and much more convincing arguments would need to be made to infer the implication of homosexuality. In fact, even the article points to masculinity being the overriding theme.

If there were clearer contemporaneous examples of these phrases more unambiguously implying homosexuality, that would be more convincing.

> gender was still distinct at the time - to insult a man's masculinity would clearly not in all contexts imply you were calling him a homosexual

To the classical Romans, a man having sex with men was considered to be demonstrating greater masculinity (if he was topping) than one having sex with women; women were soft targets (as a Latin teacher of mine put it, "anatomically passive" and therefore not so much of an accomplishment).

The term macaroni was not used by the romans.

Surely you know the difference between a fop and a homosexual. There could be some crossover, or not.

Men have commonly been called foppish or effeminate as a way to insult them. It has absolutely zero to do with homosexuality. I guess the closest we have is the metrosexual, or lumbersexual, but our society is heterogeneous. Back then there was just one way to look rich, urbane, and sharp -- and country, colonial fobs in the hinterlands didn't like it so much. The feelings were mutual.

I should have been more clear - I don't think the article was saying there was a 'gay aspect' (insomuch as a definite homosexual aspect) at all, I was just using the parent comment's language to contrast what was claimed and what was actually in the article. In fact, the article only makes passing reference to homosexuality, saying

Whether these critiques of macaronis insinuated homosexuality is debated. Certainly it is difficult to generalize one way or other: though some commentators appeared to frame macaronis in terms of same-sex attraction, not all did.

My main point was that the article was citing actual discourse from the time, and that was not at all consistent with a city vs country narrative.

[edit] clarified further

Read the whoile thing, the word changed over time, started out to mean a elegant rich person, over time it became more of an effeminate thing - the song start out with one meaning which changed out from underneath it, eventually people forgot what the word had meant at all and the song switched around from being one making fun of americans to a patriotic anthem as the meaning changed yet again.

Leisure suits were big in the Seventies so I am afraid your simple binary explanation is insufficient

So, hipsters and hipster hate has been around for at least 225 years?

For those unaware, "hipster" turns out to be an excellent analogue to "macaroni"... In the 1940s and 50s the term had positive connotations as someone fashionable or in-the-know, but it has since come to be a term of ridicule.


Seems to be a universal/recurring theme for humanity. See also: "The Congo Dandies"


Yankee Doodle went to town

Without his shaving razor

Ate so much his pants got tight

And called himself a hipster

Keep your day job.

Don't let that comment

Get you astir

Give a razor

To that hipster


Hey aqualung!

Now imagine digital archaeologists coming across your version and writing the equivalent explanatory article for future readers.

Hipsters are no food and probably are also no food in the future. ;-)

I'm fairly certain it can be dated back to the dawn of written language, and presumably extends back to the beginning of human society.

Hell, if there is a verifiable record of a time period in which a significant fraction of the established generation wasn't moaning on about how the next generation was ruining everything, I'd like to know about it.

  AS ME!

> the established generation wasn't moaning on about how the next generation was ruining everything

That's not at all what people mean when they talk about 'hipsters'.

Perhaps not always, but in my experience it largely comes from the same place, and has about as much actual reason behind it.

Hipsters are a subclass of fops, I think.

I hated fops before it was cool.

And yes, according to Wikipedia you are absolutely correct!

    Some of the very many similar alternative terms
    are: "coxcomb",[1] fribble, "popinjay" (meaning
    "parrot"), fashion-monger, and "ninny". "Macaroni"
    was another term, of the 18th century, more
    specifically concerned with fashion.

I figured it'd be accurate, given that the subject of the song is a Yankee Doodle dandy.

Or perhaps a sibling to fops, and child of dandy.

I bet there is a letter from Roman times that calls out some hipster analogue.

The idea that current generations are less manly and morally upright than their forefathers is basically the defining trope of Roman literature.

Yup, when your founders were fathered by Mars and suckled by a she-wolf, you can only go downhill from there.

Interestingly, in Latin, a she-wolf (lupa) is slang for a prostitute.

For some inexplicable reason I feel that it is much more likely that they were nursed by a prostitute than by a wolf ;-)

I think that is the the defining trope of the older generation.

I don't know about the Romans, but here's an example from 1627 https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0020217.html

The upside-down "O Maners, O Tymes" is almost certainly a reference to "O tempora, o mores," used by Cicero to mourn the wickedness of his age (end of Roman republic).

I'm sure a quick reading of Aristophanes would turn up some humor against hipsters.

On the note of ancient literature, it's amusing to note that penis jokes have been around for over 2000 years, some things just never get old.

The Romans drew penises on everything, all the time[1]. They're like your friends, when you fall asleep at a house party

[1] http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113411682/ancient-roma...

There is a well known quote from Classical Greece where they are bemoning the youngsters who go around clean shaven :-)

Alcibiades was know for this if you have read your Thucydides

And for roughly the same reason: masculinity enforcement against a group perceived as flouting gender.

That's not the reason people find hipsters annoying, doubly so these days as the lumbersexual look that's all the rage relies on exaggerated masculine stereotypes.

It's a queered version of masculine stereotypes, though, because it's playful and not serious. And it gets attacked for being not really masculine, along the lines of "have you ever cut down a tree or fought a grizzly? Then have a razor."

If you say so.

Personally I am annoyed by hipster culture because it's often pretentious and judgemental of others while living off family money, confuses materialistic fetishizing of certain kinds of brands with genuine authenticity, and fundamentally is an expression of narcissism. I could care less what gender they express.

I dislike it because it's essentially privileged urbanites mocking working class rural people.

> macaronis drank only milk, avoided eating roast beef at all costs, and disdained popular gathering places like bars and coffeehouses

Looks like Macaronis were not hipsters. One cannot separate a hipster from his coffee and brew.

Drinking coffee was one thing, but visiting a coffee-house was perhaps another. The term brings to mind a very different environment even just by adding the context that the coffee-house exists in modern-day Amsterdam; I can't guess what the social milieu of a coffee-house would be in 1700s Britain.

> I can't guess what the social milieu of a coffee-house would be in 1700s Britain.

Quite an interesting topic, actually: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_coffeehouses_in_the_17...

Nice job HN, I had a cool song to sing with the grand daughter as she ate her artesian Kraft Mac and Cheese about our founding fathers, but now it's about hipsters? Are hipsters the reason we can't have nice pasta based songs?

Next you'll be telling me the Oscar Meyer song isn't about baloney but some hipster tofu loaf infused with sirachi sauce.

Artesian? You mean there's a giant underground lake of pressurized mac'n'cheese? :D

Source please. Really.. GPS coordinates would be even better. A lake of Mac and Cheese? If it were adjacent to a lake of RC Cola, I think I'd be set.

no it's about wanna-be hipsters ... you could switch to Too Fly for a White Guy instead

hipster is such a conundrum because every person I've ever met who'd be considered one claims to hate everything about hipsters.

That's a defining characteristic. Hating hipsters doesn't necessarily make you a hipster, but you might want to take a close look at yourself to be sure.

Reading between the lines a bet, (first wave) "macaroni" is what certain hipsters called themselves, until people they didn't like started dressing like them, at which point the hipsters mocked their mainstream followers.

This behavior was satirized in Portlandia's "Over" sketch.

Also, "metrosexual". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlGqN3AKOsA

Am I the only one that actually did learn this in school?

You ain't schooling me on nothing you click-baity title. I knew this from when I satisfied my own curiosity with wikipedia.

Likewise, though I was taught about Macaroni in a course on fashion history before I first even heard the Yankee Doodle song.

Out of curiosity are you American? I the first time I heard Yankee Doodle I was probably in.. first grade? Maybe second?

Just curious if there are places in the US where you wouldn't necessarily hear the song as a child.

No, I’m not American. :-p

Yeah, I learned this in 4th grade.

There is a fantastic Lexicon Valley podcast episode about this [0] which draws on most of the same evidence. It also dicusses whether the word "Dude" my have been popularised from the same song. Definitely worth checking out! [0] http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/lexicon_valley/2014/0...

The author says

today treated as a patriotic anthem

Not in the america I grew up in. It has simple lyrics, a familiar tune and easy to instruct children to learn and play an instrument to

Listen to the music behind any flag festooned 4th of July car dealership commercial. The song has a definite patriotic bent now.

We were never taught the actual meaning of the lyrics in school, but we did learn the song.

Reading through the lyrics it seems oddly awestruck by the state of the continental army. Men were thick as Hasty Pudding, eating enormous quantities of food, and the talk of Captain Washington makes him sound loved by the men. It should be noted however that the dandy in the song sees the massive graves being dug and runs back home in the end.

If it's supposed to be an insulting song it doesn't land very hard, at least to modern ears. The only one insulted is the titular dandy who is clearly not man enough to die for his country.

Maybe you just don't patriot? It's a 4th-of-July staple.

I would suspect this is a regional difference. I live in a different area that I was reared and we often have fun comparing the differences. like pop vs. Soda

So it was what I thought.

Same. Despise this headline formula.

The modern day equivalent? The Brony?

The analogue that I thought of was metrosexual, but everyone else in the thread is calling them hipsters.

Is metrosexual still a thing? Haven't heard that word in years.

The modern equivalent is still Americans trying and failing to be fashionable by aping world trends 5 years after they've died.

It's amazing how, to this day, American fashion is still largely off the pulse and out of step with the world.


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