To “doodle” is a harmless pastime, with a pen in hand, right? The original sense of the word isn’t so sweet.
Doodle derives from the German dudenkopf (among other variations), “a fool.” Another German version: dude, which may or may not be the ancestor of ”whoa dude!” and its use throughout American pop culture. (The funny phrase dude ranch refers to “An Easterner or city person who vacations on a ranch in the West” around cowboys, etc . . .)
Doodle as “fool” meets the American Revolution in “Yankee Doodle,” the American folk song. The tune was originally sung by the British to mock the foolish fashion sense of American Revolutionary soldiers. “Stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni.” This lyric isn’t talking about macaroni and cheese; rather “an English dandy of the 18th century who affected Continental mannerisms.”
What does to doodle on paper with a pen have to do with any of this? Is the answer to be found in “doodlebug?” Well, no, that means “the larva of an antlion,” and you can look up antlion for yourself. It’s not very nice.
Dawdle, “to waste time,” may be the actual source, rather than “fool” after all. (Hope we aren’t wasting your time.) The first known popular use of doodle “to draw or scribble idly” is from the film “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” directed by Frank Capra. Serendipitously, the film created a vogue for another wonderful yet confusing word “pixilated.” Since this was 1936, pixelated refers to “slightly eccentric or mentally disordered,” rather than a really poor quality image from your video camera.