Monday 5 January 2015

The Birth of "Jingoism"

It is the fashion these days to describe some of the First World War poetry as "jingoistic" but what does the term actually mean and where does it come from?

My elderly dictionary+ has the word "jingo" defined as "a term used in a vulgar oath" and "jingoism" as "the military spirit of England as represented by so-called Jingoes".

These days, "Jingoism" is defined as "patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy".

The word apparently has it's origin in a song that was popular in Victorian Music Halls in Britain during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878. It was performed by the singer Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (1845 - 1901). The song was written by the songwriter George William Hunt (1839 - 1904) and in the chorus the words "by Jingo" were used in order to avoid blaspheming:

"We don't want to fight but by Jingo if we do
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too
We've fought the Bear* before, and while we're Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople."

*The Russians - in the Crimean War…

The song was brought back several times and with altered words was also popular during the First World War.

Sources: - full text of the song

G.W. Hunt's songs -

+ Nutall's Standard English Dictionary of the English Language, William Clowes and Son, London