The story behind the word "chauvinist" by English with Stephen

Word Stories: Chauvinist Pig!

This is the transcript for the Learning English with Stephen podcast episode on the word ‘chauvinist’.

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Hello and welcome to Learning English with Stephen. My name is Stephen Greene and today we are talking about men. Specifically, we are talking about men who don’t like women, who think that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, who believe that women are inferior to me. In short, we are talking about chauvinist pigs.

All of that coming up after this.

In a minute, I’m going to tell you a story. But first, I’d like to quickly remind you that you can find the transcript for this podcast at my site EnglishwithStephen.com. Students of English often find the transcript is useful because it helps with difficult or unknown words. It also helps students’ reading if they listen to the pronunciation of words at the same time.

And now, the story.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a famous French military leader and the Emperor of France. His ideas and policies inspired total devotion among some of the people who followed him.

Napoleon was captured by the British and eventually died in 1821. In his absence, his political friends and allies suffered as France turned towards a different path. This didn’t stop some of his previous followers from still believing in everything he once stood for.

The attitude that Napoleon was always right, even when he was wrong, was satirised in a play in France in 1831. The play included a character called Chauvin who had been in Napoleon’s army and continued to idolise everything about Napoleon and his empire. The idolisation led to Chauvin believing that only a French Empire led by people like him and Napoleon could be good for Europe. It also meant that everybody outside of his group was wrong, indeed they were enemies.

A short time later, the idea of Chauvinism had evolved and was used to talk about exaggerated, blind nationalism or patriotism that has gone too far and become destructive. The idea was that anyone who wasn’t part of your group, in this case a national group, was hated and treated as an enemy.

In many European languages, this is still the meaning of the word ‘chauvinism’. However, when I learned the word in English it had a different connotation.

For me, I have always associated chauvinism with a particular kind of hatred. In modern English, it is much more likely to be used to talk about men who think that women are below them. If a man acts badly towards a woman, just because she is a woman, then he is chauvinist. If a man thinks housework is woman’s work, then he is a chauvinist. If he believes that crying is only for girls and that they should all wear pink then he is probably a chauvinist.

He is probably lots of other things as well, but a chauvinist is definitely one of them. In fact, I’d probably call him a chauvinist pig.

There are other words that have a similar meaning to chauvinist is this context. A misogynist is someone who actively hates women. A sexist is someone who makes judgements based on a person’s sex. They are all related to each other and there is a good chance that in the example we gave earlier we could call that man a chauvinist, a sexist, and a misogynist.

I find the way that the word chauvinist has changed in English interesting. If you look up the word in a dictionary, most of the time you will find that the first definition is that of somebody who dislikes or hates people from other countries. It then goes on to define ‘male chauvinism’ as a specific form of chauvinism that is about some men’s attitudes towards women.

Indeed, a quick look at chauvinism on Wikipedia shows there are now many types of chauvinism, including ‘carbon chauvinism’, ‘Han chauvinism’, ‘welfare chauvinism’, and even ‘female chauvinism.

And then, on May 25th, 2020, a man of colour in the USA was murdered by a police officer. The man who was killed was called George Floyd. The police officer who killed him by kneeling on his neck was called…Derek Chauvin. Quite a coincidence that a man who had very little concern for people of a different colour would go by the name of a fictional character who hated everyone who was different to him.

So, I suppose if we want to be specific we should say ‘male chauvinism’ to distinguish it from the original use of the word in English. However, I am convinced that if you asked the average person what ‘chauvinism’ actually means they would be more likely to provide a definition about men and women.

If you have liked the story today, I would like you to do me two favours. The first is to subscribe to this podcast. If you subscribe you will never miss another episode in the future. You can subscribe by using a podcast platform like Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.

The second favour is to tell a friend about this podcast. The more people who listen the better as it will make it easier for even more people to find it in the future.

Thanks for your help, and just say no to chauvinists.

Goodbye.

A young girl dressed in a blue denim shirt and a red headscarf has her right hand in the air and her left hand on her bicep, signyfying strength. Text: Word Stories: Chauvinist - The origin of the word 'chavinist' by English with Stephen
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