Human vanity always drives us to elevate the ordinary. “He put a feather in his cap and called it macaroni. … Yankee doodle dandy.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives the appropriate definition (not pasta in this case) as “an exquisite of a class which arose in England about 1760 and consisted of young men who had traveled and affected the tastes and fashions prevalent in continental society … a fop.” In a standard Renaissance version of this universal tendency, scholars translated their common names into the ancient tongues of a classical world that had, in their firm conviction, learned everything...

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