August 28, 2015


Pigs of the world, behold your namesake. The word that has become almost completely subsumed by the feminist movement is believed by many to be originally based on a French superpatriot who simply could not get enough of Napoleon.

n. absurd, unreasoning, and belligerent patriotism; the quality of being wildly extravagant, demonstrative, or fanatical in regard to national glory and honor
n. unreasoning devotion to one’s race, sex, etc., with contempt for other races, the opposite sex, etc.; as male chauvinism
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition

While some modern researchers assert his existence is a myth, the traditional theory has been that Nicolas Chauvin was a French soldier born in Rochefort toward the end of the eighteenth century. Serving initially in the First Army of the French Republic and later in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée, Chauvin was wounded seventeen times and apparently so disfigured by the end of his career that he could no longer lift his sword. (With the typical French flair for irony, Chauvin was rewarded in his retirement with a ceremonial saber.)

Chauvin received a meager military pension but nevertheless maintained nothing but love for France and, especially, the Little Corporal. Even after Napoleon’s spanking at Waterloo in 1815 and subsequent fall from favor, Chauvin maintained his infallibility. So laughable was his idolatry that he caught the attention of France’s artistic community, including two playwrights, Jean and Charles Cogniard, who used him as a buffoonish character in their 1831 comedy La cocarde tricolore (The Tricolor Cockade). Other authors began using the old soldier as a caricature of fanatical patriotism as well, and his name entered the French lexicon as a synonym for bellicose nationalism.

Though English co-opted the French chauvinisme, it also produced its own synonym—jingoism. Though jingo (from Jesus) had been used as an exclamation since the seventeenth century, it was a British drinking song from the late nineteenth century that helped introduce the term jingoism by urging Great Britain to deter the Russian army from invading Constantinople in the Russo-Turkish War:

We don’t want to fight, yet by Jingo if we do,

We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men,

And the money, too.

Independent British radical George Holyoake coined the term jingoism in a letter to the editor of the Daily News in 1878, and both jingoism and chauvinism were both used in the United States by the turn of the twentieth century to characterize any mindless belief in partisan superiority. The latter took on its now ever-present male tag in the 1960s when feminists began using the term male chauvinism (and, later, “male chauvinist pig”) to characterize the insufferable boors espousing delusions of female inferiority.

Nicolas Chauvin would likely not know what to make of this modern application of his name, but it is probable that he would have been more horrified by the slap to the collective French face in 2003 by the jingoistic American renaming of “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” (see Salisbury steak). For a true patriot, some insults simply cannot stand.