August 15, 2012 - Chauvin Day

This is a weird “holiday.” It commemorates a bad belief, or maybe an unfortunate personality trait!

Have you ever wondered where the word “chauvinism” comes from? (Actually, have you ever heard the word “chauvinism” before?)

A chauvinist is someone who loudly and aggressively says blindly patriotic things—you know, the things that boil down to “my country is always right.” A chauvinist may also be unreasonably enthusiastic about military glory.

The "Give it to your wife...It's her job" part
of this label is an example of male
The word “chauvinist” has now been generalized for anyone who is overly, absurdly enthusiastic about his or her own religion, ethnic group, sex, or any other group—if that person's devotion is biased and especially if it spills over into disparagement of other religions or groups, or patronization of the opposite sex.

So, where did the word come from?

In the late 1700s a man named Napoleon Bonaparte rose to fame as a successful military leader of the French armed forces. In the early 1800s he declared himself Emperor of the French. One of Napoleon's soldiers idolized him so greatly that this soldier eventually became ridiculous and the butt of others' jokes. This soldier often and loudly proclaimed blind devotion and loyalty to Napoleon and to anything French—and he was named Nicholas Chauvin.

It's not many of us who get our names memorialized in a word in the dictionary. In this case, it is not an honor!

By the way, nobody knows when Nicholas Chauvin was born, so Chauvin Day is held on the birthday of Napoleon.

Oh, and one more thing: some historians are skeptical that Chauvin ever really existed. He may be a fictional character that people who were sick of Bonapartism created!

A legendary character that never ever existed is called apocryphal. Of course, it's difficult to know if people like King Arthur and Robin Hood are based on someone who really lived (or, more likely, more than one person who really lived) or are wholly apocryphal, because their legends concern times from the Sixth and Fourteenth Centuries. I would think that it would be a bit easier to figure out if Chauvin really lived, because Napoleonic times were only a few centuries ago; the fact that some historians think he didn't exist makes me think that there is no evidence—no birth certificate, no written military records—that he did.

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