A 15th century Dutch song began with the nonsense phrase “Yankee dudel doodle down.”
The song spread to England, where it was first sung to children during the Elizabethan era and then (with new words) to taunt Oliver Cromwell and his Protestant forces.
The Brits continued the tradition of singing it as things got tense in their North American colonies.
A British army surgeon stationed in Albany, New York, is credited with rewriting the song during the 1750s to make fun of the simpleminded American bumpkins around him.
They were apparently doltish enough to adopt the song as their own and especially liked to sing it while pursuing retreating Redcoats.
“I hope I shall never hear that tune again!” British General Thomas Gage was quoted as saying.
Eventually the song was adopted as a patriotic American air, and the term Yankee-Doodle has come to mean “inhabitant of the United States”, though the song still doesn’t make much sense.