Saturday, August 11, 2012


I was watching Frank Capra’s Mr Deeds Goes to Town again last night when the following scene with a young Gary Cooper came on: 

Longfellow Deeds: ...everybody does something silly when they're thinking. For instance, the judge here is, is an O-filler. 
Judge May: A what? 
Longfellow Deeds: An O-filler. You fill in all the spaces in the O's with your pencil. I was watching him. 
[general laughter
Longfellow Deeds: That may make you look a little crazy, Your Honor, just, just sitting around filling in O's, but I don't see anything wrong, 'cause that helps you think. Other people are doodlers. 
Judge May: "Doodlers"? 
Longfellow Deeds: Uh, that's a word we made up back home for people who make foolish designs on paper when they're thinking: it's called doodling. Almost everybody's a doodler; did you ever see a scratchpad in a telephone booth? People draw the most idiotic pictures when they're thinking. Uh, Dr. von Hallor here could probably think up a long name for it, because he doodles all the time.  

See the above clip at:

That couldn’t be right, could it?  That the word “doodle” came from a 1936 flick? 

My recollection from childhood was that “doodle” was another word for penis, apparently still the case because Ned Flanders says to Homer in one of The Simpsons episodes “Hey Homie, I can see your doodle.” 

The more widespread meaning of doodle is as Longfellow Deeds explained it above. 

The word originates from the early 17th century when ut meant a fool or simpleton, probably from the German Dudeltopf or Dudeldop, meaning simpleton or noodle (literally "nightcap").  

It is with that meaning – fool, simpleton – that it is used in the song Yankee Doodle.   

The song dates from before the War of Independence, aka the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), where it was originally sung by British military officers to make fun of the disorganised colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  According to one version, British Army surgeon Dr Richard Shucklburgh wrote the lyrics after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, Jr., the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.  

By the way, Yankee Doodle is the state anthem of Connecticut. 

Ever wondered why Yankee Doodle called the feather in his cap macaroni?... 

Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his cap,
And called it macaroni.

In mid 18th century England, a macaroni was a fop, someone who dressed and spoke in an outlandish, outlandishly fashionable manner.  The later term “dandies” referred to the young men who moved away from the excesses of the macaroni; rather than being foppish and effeminate, the modern day connotation of dandy, they were actually asserting masculinity.  The macaroni were  named after the Italian dish.  Young men who had been on The Grand Tour (the traditional 17th and 18th century rite of passage European tour by affluent young males)  brought back with them a taste for macaroni, a food little known in England at the time.  They were said to belong to the Macaroni Club and they would call anything that was fashionable “very macaroni”.  An alternative explanation for the term is that “maccherone” was a trendy Italian word for a dolt, oaf or fool, and the gentlemen who came home after being on The Grand Tour described things that didn't measure up in London as "very maccherone", so quick, and so often that their critics began using the same term to describe them: the macaronis. 

The macaroni members wore fashionable, foppish clothing which included tight trousers and short, form-fitting waistcoats with ruffles and braid.  They also displayed affectations by holding walking sticks, spy glasses, and nosegays. The most extreme members of the “Macaroni club” topped off their high fashion with tall, powdered wigs, often balancing a small cap on top, so high that they had to be removed by the point of a sword:

1774 drawing, “What is this, my son Tom?”

The lyric that Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni is a further dig at the Colonials by the British, that the Colonials were such yokels that they believed that sticking a feather in a hat was enough to be the mark of a macaroni, that the feather was sufficient to be high fashion.

Reversing the British snobbery inherent in the song and lyrics, the Colonial Militia adopted the song as their own and used it as a rallying, marching song.

(At the conclusion of the 1981 Wimbledon Chamnpionships, in which American tennis star John McEnroe had defeated his long-time rival Bjorn Borg, TV commentator Bud Collins took note of the 4th July holiday and also McEnroe's red-white-and-blue attire, and quipped "Stick a feather in his cap and call him 'McEnroe-ni'!")

Which brings us back to Mr Deeds:  did he really come up with the term doodle to refer to unfocused, absent-minded drawing and scribbling? 

The short answer is: yes.  The DVD audio commentary for the film confirms screenwriter Robert Riskin invented the word for this movie to describe such activity. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.