Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Maybe The Jingo Ate Your Baby

One thing that I would like to do on this blog is have a "Word of the Day." There are so many fantastic words out there that just aren't getting used enough, or when we come across them we might think "that's a cool word," but we don't have time to look them up. So I would like to pause more often an savor some of these verbal delectables. My first choice would have to be "Jingoism." It just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? It makes me think of exotic foods or something. When I first saw it, I thought it must refer to a cult-following of some character from one of the off-shoot Star Wars novels (none of which I have ever read by the way--not that I think they are bad).

So I looked it up, and according to Webster's it means, "extreme chauvinism or nationalism, marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy." Well, that's nice, but to get some real etymology I did some more research. And etymology for me is the fine-dining of definition searching. A quick look in Websters is more like a banana with nuts (please no Freudian interpretations, it just happens to be my favorite snack these days--and sometimes a banana with nuts is just a banana with nuts). Websters is a wholesome snack, in other words, that tides me over until lunch, but leaves me feeling like I internalized something healthy.

Anyway, this usage of the word originated in Britain in the 1870s, referring to the ideology of the Jingos. Jingos were confident chaps that had a an aggressive stance towards Russia in that decade. In fact, (as I learned in the OED) it probably came from a song in 1878 with the lyrics-- referring to Russia-- "We don't want to fight yet, by Jingo! if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too." Apparently, the American version of this phrase in the 19th century was "spread-eagleism," which, by the way, I will not be putting into Google as search terms, so, sorry, there will be no future post on it. But the Yanks got around to adopting "Jingoism" by the turn of the 20th century.

So people have applied this term to many politicians like Teddy Roosevelt (of course), and even George W. Bush was accused of "reviving Jingoism in America" (surprise, surprise). I must say that, in my opinion, a little Patriotism never hurt anyone, but extreme nationalism, especially when it gets pushed as "my country is better than yours, or all others for that matter" is dangerous and possibly destructive. Yet, somehow, many Americans say that theirs is the greatest country in the world. Now, I love America, and am grateful for the sacrifices made for this country, and hey, maybe it is the greatest country in the world (depending on how you define "greatest"), but I don't think the phrase is helpful, and it can be harmful.

My Wife is Canadian and her brother recently came down from Canada to visit us. He brought a friend with him who wore his bright red Canadian sweatshirt with his Canadian hat (not made of beaver--just a regular ball cap). This "friend" kept going on and on about how Canada was the best country in the world, and that he can't believe how poorly Americans do everything. I like Canada a lot, and my kids are half-Canadian, but by the time he started trying to train my daughter to say that Canada was the best country in the world I was ready to poke him in the eye. Now, in this case, we are not talking about the kind of Jingoism that caused the Jingos to be ready to fight Russia, nor are we talking about invasion, etc...but on a micro level I really did want to deck him, by Jingo! Maybe we can start dismantling larger Jingos by being respectful and appreciative of the good in all countries. Sorry for the moral at the end.

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