Skip to content

The Houndsditch Macaroni

July 3, 2015
by the gentle author

I came upon this appealing illustration in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute but was entirely mystified to discover the meaning of ‘Macaroni’, fortunately Spitalfields Life’s Contributing Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green was able to elucidate by supplying the relevant entry from his three volume magnum opus, ‘Green’s Dictionary of Slang’.

Macaroni- A fop, a dandy. Thus macaroni-stake n., a horserace ridden by a ‘gentleman jockey’ [the Macaroni Club, ‘which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses’ (Horace Walpole ed., Letters of Earl Hertford, 1764). The travelling, suggests the OED, prob. gave the members a taste for foreign foods, hence the name].

1764 H. Walpole 27 May Letters IV (1891) 238: ‘Lady Faulkener’s daughter is to be married to a young rich Mr. Crewe, a Macarone, and of our Loo.’

1766 P. de Marivaux Agreeable Surprise (translation) I i: ‘He charms the female heart, oh, la! / The pink of macaronies.’

1770 R. King Frauds of London 56: ‘Exotic fopperies, and new fashioned vices [...] of our new English Maccaronies.’

1772 G. Stevens ‘The Blood’ Songs Comic and Satyrical 139: ‘Macaronies so neat, / Pert Jennies so sweet.’

1773 C. Shadwell Fair Quaker of Deal (rev. edn) I i:‘I value myself for not being a coxcomb, a macaronie captain.’

1774 J. O’Keeffe Tony Lumpkin in Town (1780) 28: Tim.: ‘This cousin of your’s is a tip-top macaroni. Tony.: Yes, he’s a famous mac.’

1781 J. Burgoyne Lord of Manor I i: ‘The macaroni’s knapsack—It contains a fresh perfumed fillet for the hair, a pot of cold cream for the face, and a calico under waistcoat.’

1789 G. Parker Life’s Painter 177: ‘Gentlemen of the drop. Are a set of people to be seen in all the great thorough-fares of London [...] They dress quite different, some like farmers and graziers, with a drab coat, a brown two curl wig, boots, spurs, &c., others like walking jockeys, horse-dealers, tradesmen, gentlemen, mackaronies, &c. Some speak Irish, some Welch, and others the West and North Country dialects; they often appear as raw countrymen.’

a.1790 C. Dibdin ‘Vauxhall Watch’ Collection of Songs I 57: ‘Pretty women dress’d so tight, / And macaronies what a sight.’

1805 G. Barrington New London Spy 53: ‘The present degenerate race of Macaronies, who appear to be of spurious puny breed.’

1818 ‘Thomas Brown’ Fudge Family in Paris Letter X 120: ’Twas dark when we got to the Boulevards to stroll / And in vain did I look ’mong the street Macaronis.

1828 (con. 1770) G. Smeeton Doings in London 52: ‘A macaroni made his appearance at an assembly-room, dressed in a mixed silk coat, pink satin waistcoat and breeches, covered with elegant silver net, white silk stockings, with pink clocks, pink satin shoes and large pearl buckles; a mushroom-coloured stock, covered with fine-point-lace, hair dressed remarkably high and stuck full of pearl pins.’

1834 (con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 53: ‘He was a deuced fine fellow [...] quite a tiptop macaroni.’

1841 ‘The Batch Of Cakes’ Dublin Comic Songster 44: ‘The bucks that range about so smart, drest up like simple tonies, / Why, lauk, they are no cakes at all, they’re only macaronies.’

1851 ‘A Batch of Cakes’ Jolly Comic Songster 238: ‘Dandy lads, with stays and pads, / Dressed out like simple tonies, / Cannot be reckoned cakes at all, / They’re only maccaronies.’

1863 (ref. to mid-18C) Shields Dly Gaz. 17 Sept. 3/4: ‘The deeds which delighted the buckskin breeches and cocked hats of our Maccaronis and Mohawks in the days of the second George.’

1874 Pall Mall Gaz. 14 Apr. 11/2: ‘A Maccaroni, with his affected airs and fanciful attire, is not now a very conceivable creature.’

1880 (ref. to 18C) Manchester Courier 4 Aug. 6/1: ‘Mohawks and Maccaronis had plenty of shillings in those days.’

1885 Newcastle Courant 20 Feb. 2/3: ‘Though an exquisite in dress and manner [he was] by no means a representative of the ‘maccaroni,’ ‘fribbles’ [...] or ‘swells’ of various periods.’

1890 (ref. to 1764) Graphic (London) 29 Nov. 19/1: ‘In 1764 [...] the ‘Maccaronis,’ the ‘curled darlings’ of the day, were gaily ruining their fortunes.’

1899 H. Lawson ‘The Songs They Used to Sing’ in Roderick (1972) 386: ‘Yankee Doodle came to town / Upon a little pony — / Stick a feather in his cap, / And call him Maccaroni.’

1929 J.B. Priestley Good Companions 15: ‘Though they did not know it, they were in truth the last of a long line, the last of the Macaronis, the Dandies, the Swells, the Mashers, the Knuts.’

1938 C. Beaton Cecil Beaton’s N.Y. 171: ‘The boy, a macaroni in dress, his long, seemingly boneless limbs encased in grey check.’

Image courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

Prince of England, Underground Dancer

The Luchadors of Bethnal Green

The Trannies of Bethnal Green

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Margaret Chan permalink
    July 3, 2015

    There is also, of course, this American song:

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

    Dating from the American War of Independence, I think it is supposed to suggest that the Americans were unsophisticated and thought just wearing a feather made them fashionable.

  2. July 3, 2015

    Another one: in Sheridan’s ‘The School for Scandal’, the idiot poet Sir Benjamin Backbit (himself a bit of a fop) comes up with this masterpiece:
    Sure never were seen two such beautiful ponies;
    Other horses are clowns, but these macaronies:
    To give them this title I’m sure can’t be wrong,
    Their legs are so slim, and their tails are so long.

  3. July 3, 2015

    Thank you, Margaret, I’ve known that Yankee Doodle song for years and I’ve always wondered what it meant. Now I know! And thank you GA for yet another enlightening story. Whatever a day may bring, when I get your mail, I know there will be at least something interesting, moving, insightful, amazing and beautiful in it.

  4. roger carr permalink
    July 3, 2015

    Curiously like the Spanish ‘maricon’ .

  5. Patty/NS permalink
    July 3, 2015

    Love all your posts but this one is very interesting. Perhaps this is where the line in the song Yankee Doodle Dandy is explained – Yankee Doodle came to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat and called him Macaroni. Such fun!

  6. July 4, 2015

    Actually, in difference to Margaret’s comment, it wasn’t an American song initially. The British army, circa 1750-1755, made up the song about Yankee Doodle to poke fun at the Colonists. I hope that most people probably know that, at least in legend, the song and phrase “Yankee Doodle” were both created by the English to be derogatory and insulting to Americans.

    Patty/NS has the words correct as the song evolved by the 1880s. The British army in the colonies made up the word “Yankee” as a derogatory term for colonists. It’s interesting to me that the Yankee term has outlasted the Macaroni one. While outside the U.S. “Yankee” or “Yank” is used to refer to any American. However, within the U.S. a Yankee is used to define only those who inhabit the northern citizenry in the New England area. This distinction has been in use since the Civil War of the 1860s. Again, it was meant to be a slur by those in the South. If you called a person from America’s South, a Yankee, they would correct you… “a Yankee is those idiots ‘up north.’”

    For a great illustration and description of a “macaroni” and a generally accurate story about the song, “Yankee Doodle,” and an early broadside of the original name and words, go to the web address shown with my comments. I was especially amused at the music played by both sides during the British surrender at the end of War for Independence.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS