Macaroni

macaroni

yankee doodle

A macaroni [mak-uh-roh-nee] in mid-18th century England, was a fashionable fellow who dressed and spoke in an outlandishly affected and effeminate manner.

The term pejoratively referred to a man who ‘exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion’ in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling.

Like a practitioner of macaronic verse, which mixed together English and Latin to comic effect, he mixed Continental affectations with his English nature, laying himself open to satire: ‘There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.’

Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour had developed a taste for macaroni, a type of Italian food little known in England then, and so they were said to belong to the Macaroni Club. They would call anything that was fashionable or à la mode as ‘very maccaroni’. The expression was particularly used to characterize fops who dressed in high fashion with tall, powdered wigs with a chapeau hat on top that could only be removed on the point of a sword. The macaronis were precursor to the dandies, who far from their present connotation of effeminacy came as a more masculine reaction to the excesses of the macaroni.

The Italian term ‘maccherone,’ figuratively meaning ‘blockhead, fool’ was not related to this British usage. The song ‘Yankee Doodle,’ from the time of the American Revolutionary War, mentions a man who ‘stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni,’ the joke being that the Yankees were naive enough to believe that a feather in the hat was a sufficient mark of a macaroni. Whether or not these were alternative lyrics sung in the British army, they were enthusiastically taken up by the Yankees themselves.

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