The word Doodle is thought to be derived from the Low German dudel, meaning "playing music badly", or Dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton". In British culture, the term "Yankee doodle dandy" means misuse of high-class fashion, as though simply sticking a feather in one's cap would make one be noble and the colonists were low-class men lacking masculinity, emphasizing that the American men were womanly. The words were written around 1755 by British Army surgeon Dr. Richard Shuckburgh while campaigning in upper New York. The song was originally sung by the British military to mock the colonial "Yankees", to make fun of the American soldier as a Yankee simpleton who thought that he was stylish if he simply stuck a feather in his cap. Soon it became popular among the Americans as a song of defiance, and they added verses to it that mocked the British troops and hailed George Washington. By 1781, Yankee Doodle had turned from being an insult to being a song of national pride.
The song's melody is much older than both the lyrics and the subject, going back to folk songs of Medieval Europe and well known across western Europe, including England, France, Holland, Hungary, and Spain. The earliest known words are in Middle Dutch, dating back as far as 15th-century Holland: "Yanker, didel, doodle down, Diddle, dudel, lanther, Yanke viver, voover vown, Botermilk und tanther"... wich is translated as "Farm laborers in Holland were paid "as much buttermilk (Botermilk) as they could drink, and a tenth (tanther) of the grain".
The earliest known version of the lyrics comes from 1755 or 1758, as the date of origin is disputed:
Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission;
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant Coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.
Yankey Doodle came to town,
How do you think they serv'd him?
One took his bag, another his scrip,
The quicker for to starve him.
The modern version of the song as it is known today:
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.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,[a]
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
And there we saw a thousand men
As rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be savèd.
The 'lasses they eat every day,
Would keep a house a winter;
They have so much, that I'll be bound,
They eat it when they've a mind to.
And there I see a swamping[b] gun
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a deuced little cart,
A load for father's cattle.
And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder,
And makes a noise like father's gun,
Only a nation[c] louder.
I went as nigh to one myself
As 'Siah's underpinning;
And father went as nigh again,
I thought the deuce was in him.
Cousin Simon grew so bold,
I thought he would have cocked it;
It scared me so I shrinked it off
And hung by father's pocket.
And Cap'n Davis had a gun,
He kind of clapt his hand on't
And stuck a crooked stabbing iron
Upon the little end on't
And there I see a pumpkin shell
As big as mother's basin,
And every time they touched it off
They scampered like the nation.
I see a little barrel too,
The heads were made of leather;
They knocked on it with little clubs
And called the folks together.
And there was Cap'n Washington,
And gentle folks about him;
They say he's grown so 'tarnal proud
He will not ride without 'em.
He got him on his meeting clothes,
Upon a slapping stallion;
He sat the world along in rows,
In hundreds and in millions.
The flaming ribbons in his hat,
They looked so tearing fine, ah,
I wanted dreadfully to get
To give to my Jemima.
I see another snarl of men
A-digging graves, they told me,
So 'tarnal long, so 'tarnal deep,
They 'tended they should hold me.
It scared me so, I hooked it off,
Nor stopped, as I remember,
Nor turned about till I got home,
Locked up in mother's chamber.