Advent calendar 23: A Guest Post from our American Offices

On the twenty-third day of Christmas,
The Bakery gave to me:
A Guest Post from our American Offices

Offering a pronounced change of pace than the usual creative hotcakes the Bakery churns out, today’s post is brought to you by our bigger, better and more fashionable American offices. We (and definitely Tom German) need not look much further than Michael Moore’s jeans to realize that us Americans have always had a special eye for fashion.

Actually, what this post is about is the harsh realization of just the opposite. Americans have not only in the present day been ridiculed for our lack of fashion sense but historically as well. Did you know, this?!? It’s absurd, I know. As I dug deeper into this quagmire of harsh truths, what I unearthed was truly shocking.

Now, I know that fashion is of great concern to the Bakery boys which is why I’ve felt it my imperative duty to share this life-changing knowledge of Anglo-American history through fashion with all of you. First of all, I don’t think anyone would disagree with me here that the Bakery is chalk full of trendsetting metrosexuals. It has even been rumoured that the highly acclaimed plaid and Hawaiian print combo trend originated at the Bakery. You’d never find someone’s Mum buying their clothes or someone wearing an outfit more than once amongst this bunch. Anyway, fashioning their hottest new trends, this is a photo of the boys off out on a hip Saturday afternoon:

I believe the photo speaks for itself.

As many fans and friends of the Bakery may know, it is not long after becoming acquainted with the group that it is very likely you will acquire your very own personalized nickname. The origins of nicknames bestowed upon friends of the Bakery can arise from any manner of things – a misspelled text message, the metamorphosis of one’s last name into a popular Indian dish, or for having a jaw that unfortunately implies responsibility for the Holocaust, or of course— one’s nationality. Hailing from the great country of the land of the free, home of the brave; America, my nicknames naturally centred around my beloved nation of birth.

Amongst the nicknames bestowed upon me, some included but were not limited to:  Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, The Prairie Queen, Ghandi Gurzon, Dirty Gerty, Gertzon, Morband Gorton, Morondo, La Bamba, Rambo, Goebles and last but not least, Yankee Doodle Randy. Often shortened to simply, “Doodle,” this nickname is of course inspired by the patriotic song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. However, previously unbeknownst to me was that my adoring nickname was in fact motivated by unbridled bigoted nationalism on the part of Richard Dadd (big surprise there). However, Richard, or “Eagle hater” as I like to call him, in innocently creating this nickname has provided me an excellent point of departure to better understand America and England’s “special” relationship.

Now, I have not always had an interest in Anglo-American history. Or more accurately, not so much interest in the Anglo side of things. However, somewhere around the Summer of 2007 I happened to meet two lovely and charming Englishmen standing in line at a restaurant in Arctic Sweden. Those two gents turned out to be Chefs Al and Dan. However, back then they were still in culinary school and had not yet become full blown chefs and therefore spent their time meditating amongst Canadian geese and hiking around the hills of Sweden getting holes in the backs of their trousers and sun burning their legs. From that point on, my interest in also gaining an understanding of the side of our colonial oppressors has grown and grown, to finally blossom into a beautiful love-hate relationship of both fascination and frustration with English culture.

It was through taking a module during my final term at Uni called “Costume Design and the History of Fashion” that I was first introduced to understanding history through the clothes people wear. We studied nations’ relationships in history through the travelling and wearing of material objects; through understanding why we wear what we wear. It was genuinely a fascinating module. During one of the lectures, the professor unknowingly opened the door to a rather illuminating piece of history that unlocked the historical relevance of the song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and moreover the complex relationship between England and America.

For those who need a refresher, this is this song I am referencing:

Now, I’m not sure if this song means anything to English children, but for us little ones over here it is ingrained as a quintessentially patriotic American tune. Despite its perceived importance we learned it was merely a silly song with no real meaning. I just thought Doodle was a fun word to say and that macaroni was an exciting type of pasta, and none of my school teachers ever said otherwise. But, oh was I wrong and oh did hearing the truth turn my world upside down.

Although there are many verses and versions of the song, the most well known is the first verse:

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

Okay, in an attempt to unveil the true meaning of the song let me first do a little etymological break down of our glossary of terms:

Doodle effectively means a fool or simpleton. The macaroni wig was extreme fashion in the 1700s and became contemporary slang for foppishness. A fop, or dandy was a man concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way. A modern day fop could read as a metrosexual; a foolish person who is overly concerned with their clothing and incapable of engaging in intellectual conversations, activities or thoughts.

So, by my calculation, the implication of the verse was therefore that the Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought by simply sticking a feather in their cap it would make them the height of fashion. Not such an innocent apolitical song after all!

Furthermore, it was actually the British who brought the tune to America during the French and Indian War in the mid 1700s. The British used the song and the term “Yankee Doodle” sarcastically, to ridicule the makeshift appearance of the dress of American Colonial troops. Eventually, when the Revolution began, the Americans adopted the song as a rallying tune and the song was even played to celebrate the American victory on Oct. 19th 1781, at the British surrender at Yorktown.

So there you have it.

Who would’ve known this song had such a complex and fluctuating history that beautifully represents a microcosm of Anglo-American ties at large? I certainly did not. Alas it is nevertheless an important realization to have that not all things, if not most things that America holds near and dear to their collective patriotic heart, do not have the most “American” of beginnings.

Perhaps this song even explains the mythological origins as to why the English often regard Americans as uncultured, unoriginal, slobbish meatheads and conversely why Americans occasionally postulate that the English are a bunch of pompous tea-drinking pansies.

Regardless of all this, beautiful things can and do happen when either side of the Atlantic come together  without ridiculing each other.

But it’s considerably less funny.

Thank you all & to all a good night!

Yours truly,
Guest Pastry Chef, Yankee Doodle Randy

5 Comments

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  1. What a brilliant piece of sartorially orientated history into the relationship between America and England! Yankee Doodle, you certainly know how to capture the hearts and attentions of us here at The Bakery – make the subject fashion orientated, and we’re all ears! I think i speak for the majority of The Bakery here, but i certainly have difficulty trusting (or maintaining engagement) with those who faithfully follow fashions every turn – whether they execute it well, or not. And this scepticism of mine, as you have shown, is somewhat historical. Infact, i would say that scepticism is a British institution, and those who don’t conform to it left on ships bound for the US several hundred years ago. Which at least illuminates why the US is hopelessly full of enthusiasm and positivity – which for us in the UK is interpreted as largely misplaced and fake. If it wasn’t for the American’s undying affection for the English accent, and a large body of water separating us, it wouldn’t surprise me if our two countries would be engaging in a feud you’d normally find in the middle east. Infact, i’m pretty certain of it.

    There is also something very much brotherly about the relationship too – no matter what the younger brother does, the older one always has to ridicule it and shake their head in dismissal. And still the younger brother endlessly looks up to the older brother, with affection. I think this is particularly seen in the adoption of an insulting song as a victory theme – even i remember doing that with insults my brother gave me. There’s no better way of killing an insult, than wearing it so thin it begins to really piss off it’s creator.

    God, i wont even go into how the war in Iraq could be woven into this analogy…something along the lines of “but you’ve got to join in – i took the blame when you burnt down the shed with those fireworks.”

    Infact, that analogy is a little bit shit and thin on the ground but it does remind me a little of that dynamic.

  2. Being the tiresome smart arse that I am, this history of Yankee Doodle Dandy is familiar to me. So I’m afraid that, far from being innocent, my participation in your nickname has always been informed by knowledge of this mickey-taking back story. But nevertheless I very much enjoyed your entertaining and well written essay.

    You are no doubt aware that the name Randy, though presumably occasionally popping up in America, and serving as a conceivable abbreviation of Miranda, is pretty much unheard of as a name in the UK. Here “randy” simply denotes “horny.”

    So, I’m afraid every time I have ever heard you referred to as “Yankee Doodle Randy” it has always brought to mind a foppish simpleton on heat…

    Tracking history through clothes is an interesting topic. Although it must be borne in mind that it wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that fashion was truly homogenised; prior to that I think the costumes of commoners were a rag tag collection of whatever they could gather together. Working class people must have looked as disparate and cobbled together as a low budget ITV costume drama. The upper classes, of course, would have been richer and more fashion-conscious no doubt.

    As an aside, I would like to take this opportunity to refute a frequent criticism of myself: I do not hate all American things. I merely hate CRAP American things. I think it would be a good idea to appoint some sort of American Ambassador whose sole responsibility is to monitor what cultural imports make their way to Britain.

    Nor should this be one-sided. I’m not sure quite what America did to deserve being sent Piers Morgan, for example…

    • Dear Richard,
      Thank you ever so much for reading and commenting on my post, despite its lengthy nature. Indeed, I decided to overlook the dual meaning of “randy” in my beloved nickname. However, over here we would say a “foppish simpleton ‘IN’ heat” not “on” heat. Is this an error of word choice (by Richard Dadd, never!) or is this yet another English-American linguistic difference?
      Speaking of which, I discovered a few days ago why Americans don’t pronounce the ‘h’ in “herb”. Unsurprisingly, we got it from you guys. The English adopted the silent ‘h’ from the French and then carried it over to their colony in the New World; America. And then we just never let it die, whereas you guys moved on and decided to make full use of the lovely ‘h’ sound. Apparently it is a rather common linguistic (and cultural) phenomenon for colonies to carry on and unintentionally preserve old school ways or words of their colonizers. I wonder if there’s a word to describe this occurrence…?

      • On/in heat are interchangeable. I’ve just double checked this in the Collins English Dictionary, and both are listed, with neither marked “Brit” or “US.” So presumably both are acceptable in English, wherever the speaker is from.

        As an English student, I have of course come upon the idea of pronunciations/words evolving or dying out in English, whilst being maintained by English speakers elsewhere in the world. But sometimes I think this theory is seized upon a little presumptuously by well-meaning etymologists. It’s all a matter of interpreting history.

        My understanding of British history casts a question mark over the certainty of your theory…

        The inclusion of French words into English has a lot to do with the Norman conquests in the eleventh century. From 1066 onwards, the ruling elite of England were French-speaking nobility. It is a heavily documented fact that despite this, the native people unsurprisingly didn’t all start speaking French. Nor would they have been given lessons in the nuances of French pronunciation. Instead, the common folk simply carried on with their own tongue and its many fractured dialects. There was a distinct class division, with the upper classes doing their important business in French, writing laws in French and so on (the historic French they used was a dialect technically referred to by linguists as “Anglo-Norman”). But the peasants bumbled along as ever. Even today the indigenous people of this isle are particularly inept at speaking French or mastering its pronunciation.

        So, what about the issue of all of the French words in our language? Well, nearly all of them are pronounced “wrong” when compared to the French. My own name, Richard, did not exist in the British isles prior to the Norman invasion, but you will notice that none of us English-speakers pronounce it the French way, “Reeshar.” We took the name, but not the pronunciation.

        Similarly, I remember Dan having issues with the English word “adroit” which he had previously only ever encountered in French. He was inclined to say “adwat,” but of course this is not how the English say it.

        You see, as time went by, the linguistic division between upper/lower classes was less distinct, and even the nobility were speaking English. But nevertheless the Norman invasion had left a load of French words, terms and names behind. But remember, it was only the nobility who had actually been SPEAKING French all this time. With the Frenchies gone, we were all left happily pronouncing things as the uneducated English peasants always had done.

        But as for the word “herb,” this is rather by-the-by. You see, the Romano-British Celts would have remembered the old Latin root of the word “herb” from the days of the Roman Empire (BEFORE the French-speaking Norman invasion).

        So, not only were the English routinely incorporating “mispronounced” French words into their lexicon from a ruling class who didn’t speak the same language as them . . . but the English peasants would probably already have been familiar with the Latin “herba” and its derivatives, with the glottal fricative “h” as the established precedent – away from later French influences.

        Centuries later, the colonies of America began to spring up. Presumably it was the French influence of this burgeoning multi-ethnic new nation that suggested (as when Dan mistakenly “corrected” my Anglocentric pronunciation of “adroit”) that the “h” in “herb” should be silent.

        I am by no means an expert in American etymology, so I may be wrong about this detail. But so far as my knowledge of British history goes, I’m pretty convinced of the above.

        After all, I have the benefit of a GCSE in French, and despite this Gaetan still laughs at my attempts to read the language aloud. I would be startled if my uneducated peasant forefathers were dropping “h”s like a bunch of metrosexual continentals, simply because their new king was a Frog!

  3. Tom German Doesnt live here anymore

    Internet been down for the last week, so missed post. Really enjoyed it. V well written. Love the G man

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