Skip to main content

In tracing the histories of English words we are often led into other languages, such as Latin, Hindi, French, Chinese, and so on. Occasionally, however, the origin of a word lies not in another language but in the name of an individual. This is what happens with “chauvinism.”

Nicolas Chauvin was a French soldier who served under Napoleon Bonaparte. Born in Rochefort about 1780 (or July 4, 1776 according to some stories), he enlisted in the First Army of the French Republic at the age of 18. He subsequently served in La Grande Armée of Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars he was wounded 17 times. His wounds resulted in severe disfigurement and maiming. Napoleon presented Chauvin with a Sabre of Honor and a pension.

Chauvin not only had a distinguished record of service, but he also had an extreme devotion to Napoleon. The Britannica Online Encyclopedia describes Chauvin as:

a French soldier who, satisfied with the reward of military honours and a small pension, retained a simpleminded devotion to Napoleon.
In later Restoration France, when Napoleon was not particularly popular, this outspoken devotion to his hero was at odds with popular opinion. Chauvin came to typify the glorification of all things military. In the reported opinions and actions of Nicolas Chauvin, with his blind devotion to a discredited leader, the nineteenth century French playwrights had a humorous character which could be easily stereotyped in their comedies.  

The exaggerated patriotism and blind optimism of the character of Nicolas Chauvin resulted in the French word “chavinisme.” From the French, English acquired the word “chauvinism” in 1870 where it was generalized to mean “an exaggerated devotion to one’s own group or place.”

In the twentieth century, “chauvinism” became a part of the phrase “male chauvinism” and in the twenty-first century the modifier “male” is often dropped and “chauvinism” is used to mean “the denigration, disparagement, and patronization of either sex based on the belief that one sex is inferior to the other and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit.” There are some who feel that “chauvinism” is today simply a synonym for “Republican.”

In terms of etymology, there’s also another thread for us: the meaning of the surname Chauvin. This name seems to come from “chauve” meaning “bald” and originates from the Latin “calvus.” The Northern French version of this name is “Calvin,” the surname of Jean Calvin who founded Calvinism. Thus, “chauvinism” and “Calvinism” are linguistically intertwined.

One of the important questions which we have to ask at this time: did Nicolas Chauvin really exist? Was he actually a real person, or was he simply a fictional character from the French plays who developed a persona that seemed real? A number of historians who have examined the story have concluded that he is simply a legend. Some historians refer to Nicolas Chauvin as semi-mythical.

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sat Apr 13, 2013 at 08:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Cranky Grammarians, and Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site