The Mystery of Yankee-Doodle

“Yankee-Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat, and called it macaroni.”

Yankee-Doodle went to town, I know this much to be true, he voyaged on horseback, but at this point things become a little hazy. Are we to assume that Yankee-Doodle (from here onwards now referred to as YD) was wearing a hat, and that upon placing a feather into this hat, declared that the hat in question was macaroni?

Or was YD’s pony wearing some kind of equine head garment, that YD proceeded to adorn with a feather, as the dynamic duo drew nearer to town, and it is at this moment that he proclaimed once and forever, that his pony’s hat was not in fact a hat, but a variety of pasta?

Perhaps we are placing too much emphasis on the hat, and not on the pony itself, this new line of enquiry might suggest that up until the moment of epiphany, YD’s pony was actually without title, and that the feather placed in the pony’s hat was symbolic and part of a more complex naming ritual not detailed in the song. (The author imagines that upon sticking the feather into the pony’s hat, his rider, in one fell swoop, slaps his thigh in a cowboy-like fashion that was typical of this era, and yells “MAAAACARONIIIIIII!!!” at the top of his lungs before galloping wildly off. Furthermore, we are unsure of whether or not the feather remains stuck in the hat, and whether the hat remains on the horse for the duration of the journey into town. The latter scenario is given less probability, as unless the hat was secured with some kind of tailor-made fastening system, the head movements of the horse coupled with the wind speed factor would have made for less-than-ideal hat-wearing conditions. However, as we already know, any horse hat, being what it is, is likely to feature a built in mechanism for ensuring that it remains firmly on the head of the horse, therefore it seems more likely that the hat does in fact stay on the pony’s head, and leaves us with the worrisome doubt about the fate of the feather.)

Another possible scenario is that YD was calling the feather in his horse’s hat “macaroni”, although it remains to be seen why he would choose such an unconventional naming scheme, but perhaps YD was a contrarian, calling feathers “macaroni”, and riding a horse that wears a hat. I imagine that the feather in the pony’s hat was the icing on the cake so to speak, as by doing so YD would be able to signal higher status once again, at a time when the average townsfolk were beginning to catch on to the new fashion of riding hat-wearing horses, and referring to inanimate objects as different Italian dishes.

It’s possible that to “call it macaroni”, was an expression that meant “it’s all finished” or “there it is, it’s done”. In this case YD was simply thinking out loud to himself after remembering that he had forgotten to add the final detail to his pony’s outfit. After spending a considerable amount of time brushing his coat and making sure his shoes shone in the sun, YD brushed his pony’s hair and shined his shoes, but in amongst all these preparations, the final touch was forgotten, but thankfully remembered before their arrival in town.

Whatever the case may be, whether the song is about a well-dressed, newly-christened pony, or an out-of-town horseman and his attempts at Pavlovian conditioning, what remains clear is that history will not be kind to either of them.