World Wide Words logo


If this sounds as though it is connected with Italian pasta, you’re right. It was coined in the sixteenth century by the Italian poet Teofilo Folengo, in reference to a sort of burlesque verse he invented in which Italian words were mixed in with Latin ones for comic effect.

He said that he linked the crude hotch-potch of language in the verse with the homely foodstuff called macaroni, a dish which he described (in Latin, of course) as “pulmentum farina, caseo, botiro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum” (“a savoury dish bound together with flour, cheese [and] butter, [a dish] which is fat, coarse, and rustic”).

The word first appeared in English a century later and expanded its scope to refer to any form of verse in which two or more languages were mixed together. A once-famous American example was the mixed German-English verses of Hans Breitmann’s Ballads by Charles Leland, in which a German immigrant is overwhelmed by mid-nineteenth-century America and speaks in a mixture of German and heavily accented English.

Macaronic verse has a link to the eighteenth-century London dandies who were called macaronis because they liked foreign food, Italian in particular, as a result of experiencing it on the Grand Tour. A certain famous old song also contains the word: “Yankee Doodle went to town, / Riding on a pony, / Stuck a feather in his hat, / And called it macaroni”, but that is linked to the dandy sense, not the verse one.

Page created 21 Apr. 2001

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 21 April 2001.