One of the best things about the English language is that it has a million words for "awesome." Among them is "cavalier," which describes a uniquely hipster kind of "too cool for this" attitude. That's why Chevy can name a car model the Cavalier, and why Cleveland can name its team the Cavaliers even though the term has no conceivable connection to Cleveland.
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Ironically, something LeBron and "cavalier" have in common.
Not bad for a word that used to mean "brutal, murderous asshole."
This one goes back to the English civil war of the 17th century. We're not going to bury you in too many details from that war, but we'll just remind you that it had two sides, as civil wars tend to. On one end of the ring were the Royalists, the king's supporters. On the other were the Parliamentarians. Each side hated the other, and each side insulted the other. But with social networking still in its infancy, the opponents had no recourse but plain ol' name calling.
The Royalists called the Parlies "Roundheads," because the Parliamentarians kept their hair short, which made their heads look bare and simple beside the gaily flowing curls of someone in the royal court. The newly named Roundheads responded in typical schoolyard fashion by calling the Royalists "Cavaliers." This was an English way of translating the word "caballero," and it was an insult because a century earlier Spanish soldiers called Caballeros brutally murdered the shit out of the Dutch. For reference, note that paintings from the time period feature said Caballeros/Cavaliers stabbing Dutch women and children to death in the street:
"HOW DARE YOU TRY TO DRAW AN IMAGINARY LINE ACROSS LAND WE DON'T REALLY NEED!"
Here's one stabbing a guy right in the asshole, so that the spear comes out his dick:
Art used to be fucking hardcore.
Said Spanish soldiers went about on horseback, so "cavalier" also made sense as a word for a bunch of Royalists who kept dicking about on their horses. It was sort of like how today we throw around the word "Nazi" to describe people we don't like.
The Roundheads never liked being called Roundheads, and their name seems to have vanished with them. But the Cavaliers decided that they liked being called Cavaliers, because in their mind, the word conjured not so much the brutality of the Spanish, but their nobility and horsemanship. They began using the name themselves, and they kept using it as the monarchy pulled itself together after the war. A few centuries later, and now we just slap the word on a sports jersey and go with it.
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If you're an American, you probably know the lyrics to "Yankee Doodle" from when you used to sing it around the campfire at summer camp, but you've probably never put much thought into what they actually mean, considering that "Yankee doodle dandy" is an utterly nonsensical phrase. Most of us think of it as a patriotic Revolutionary War song that has something to do with an American soldier becoming momentarily confused about the distinction between feathers and pasta.
Nevertheless, it's such a classic folk tune that it's the state song of Connecticut, as well as an upbeat, jaunty celebration of that time we kicked the British king's ass.
The Founding Fathers could shred on piccolo.
Actually, the song was penned by the British, and its lyrics are mocking the shit out of American colonists.
In fact, despite the popular misconception that it's referring to the Revolutionary War, "Yankee Doodle" actually predates it by a couple of decades, back to the French and Indian War, during which the British were actually America's allies. That didn't stop the British from looking down upon the American colonists as a bunch of ... well, dandies.
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When your homeland is so shitty that you keep having to steal other countries to live in, you tend to harbor some resentment.
The song is generally attributed to a British army physician named Richard Shuckburgh, who is thought to have written the ditty after arriving in the not-yet United States and meeting some crappy Connecticut militia in their makeshift uniforms and carrying tenth-rate equipment. As cheerful as the song sounds, it inspires more outrage when you know what its lyrics actually mean. For those who need a reminder:
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni!
Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy!
Library of Congress
"Is 'be handy' implying that we're date rapists? Oh, it's on, bitches."
Like most of the redcoats who begrudgingly sailed to the colonies to show them how it was done, Shuckburgh was a blue-blooded aristocrat who liked to wear those fluffy powdered wigs and puffy pirate shirts that were all the rage -- a fashion that was, at the time, called "macaroni." And although today we tend to use the word "dandy" to mean something like "swell," back then it was a slur for someone who thought they were above their station. Even "Yankee" was slang for "coward," which is probably a rude awakening for the New York baseball team.
So what the Brits were really singing about was those uppity American redneck cowards who put feathers in their hats and dared to think of themselves as being as good as the British. The whole thing seems so ridiculous now, in the same way that all of our '90s rap songs won't make sense in a future era when everyone roots for a pro sports franchise called the Indianapolis Mark-Ass Bitches.
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Squaring off against the Green Bay Bustas.
Mike Floorwalker can be followed on Twitter, stalked on Facebook, and assaul- well, maybe just check out his work on Listverse. Ryan Menezes is a writer and layout editor here at Cracked. He broke down and made a Twitter page just for his Cracked fans.
Related Images: Speaking of famous symbols, did you know Chinese fortune cookies aren't Chinese? And that the Jesus fish is really a vagina? It's true! Horribly true. And it's also true that Guy Fawkes died trying to install the sort of theocracy that would terrify Anonymous today.