On Writing: Regency Era Words as Both Compliments and Insults

Mac and Cheese

Note: This is not a cooking post, although after publishing it I will be heading to the kitchen.

I enjoy researching different times, places, and cultures. Part of what attracts me to writing is the fact that I can either try to recreate these for my readers, invent new times, places, and cultures to explore, or use a combination of the two techniques in my writing.

Sometimes, though, I come across a fact when researching that I find difficult to believe. I will research further and, if find out that it is true, I will then wonder if I can ever use it in a novel or short story.

Some facts would stretch a modern reader’s incredulity just a bit too far.

Take, for example, the term “macaroni.” Is it easy to believe that this word is both a compliment and an insult when applied to a young English man in the mid-1700s?

While researching meal plans for the Regency era I came across an article by Laura Boyle (2011) titled “Early Macaroni and Cheese.” It does have a nice recipe for the dish, but it also includes a history of the food item in England and how the term “macaroni” influenced the culture.

This is the web site link:

http://www.janeausten.co.uk/early-macaroni-and-cheese/

During the 1700s, macaroni was considered to be foreign cuisine. Young men who revelled in foreign fashions, including tasselled walking sticks and elaborate powdered wigs topped by tiny tricorn hats, used the term in a positive manner. For these young men, if something was “macaroni,” it was the height of fashion. They formed Macaroni Clubs, which were not physical locations but a way to describe those who were in the clique.

Others used the term “macaroni” to deride and ridicule these young men and their fashion sense. From artwork and sketches of the day, it may be easy to understand why these fashion choices did not become mainstream Regency wear.

Philip_Dawe,_The_Macaroni__A_Real_Character_at_the_Late_Masquerade_(1773)

Of course, as Boyle (2011) explains, this term is familiar to Americans because of the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” written by Richard Shuckburgh, who was a British surgeon at the time of the American Revolution. The line “he stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” was meant to be an insult to the poor fashion sense of American Colonists, but Americans found the song to be catchy and embraced it.

On an end note–I have read and written the word “macaroni” one too many times.

I have to go cook and then eat something made with cheddar cheese and noodles.

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