What is Jingoism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Jingoism is a pejorative phrase used to describe chauvinistic patriotism, characterized by a readiness to go to war and support for a very aggressive foreign policy. Like other pejoratives, it is not usually used self-referentially. The term may be used to describe bellicose politicians or administrations, and also individual citizens. Someone who is jingoistic might also be called a “war hawk,” the opposite of a “dove,” a moderate who promotes peaceful solutions.

Patriotism in the U.S. is often cultivated in young children.
Patriotism in the U.S. is often cultivated in young children.

The origins of the term are actually rather interesting. It begins with the term “by jingo,” which was used as a euphemism for “by Jesus” as early as the 17th century. The term was common enough into the 1800s that it was included in an 1878 British music hall song which was meant to stir up Britons, encouraging them to go to war with Russia. The rhetoric in the song included the line “We don't want to fight, yet by jingo! if we do...” The song also contained references to Britain's superior military strength, and argued that Britons had an obligation to ensure that “the Russians shall not have Constantinople.”

The slang term “jingoism” quickly caught on to describe an attitude which promoted war with another nation. In the United States, the term was adopted several years later, and it became a popular replacement for “spread-eaglelism.” Spread-eagleism referred to stretching the wings of the national symbol of the United States, thereby gaining more influence and territory. Both terms were featured in a number of amusing political cartoons which sometimes included clever puns like replacing the “jingle” of “jingle bells” with “jingo.”

The term is generally used to describe politicians who are overly aggressive, or supporters of an unpopular war. During the Second World War, for example, politicians who promoted a rapid and aggressive approach were not usually accused of jingoism, since the war enjoyed a huge groundswell of popular support. On the other hand, the Falklands War in the early 1980s was accompanied by a great deal of sentiment which was perceived as jingoistic, fanned by the flames of national fervor.

When political rhetoric is heavily influenced by jingoism, it usually appeals to nationalistic sentiments, encouraging good patriots to agree with the views promoted. It may also be very simplistic, eliding complex issues in favor of basic propaganda. Citizens of nations who are preparing to go to war may see a fair amount of jingoism on display, especially if the war is hotly contended amongst citizens and politicians.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@wesley91- Honestly, I had never even heard of the word “jingoism”. I looked it up and was surprised to find that a couple of the Rambo movies have been referred to as being “jingoistic”. Not sure how I feel about that...


@wesley91- The only example that I can think of is when President Theodore Roosevelt was accused of jingoism. His wartime attitude raised many eyebrows.

In 1895, Roosevelt was quoted as saying “…if by ‘jingoism’ they mean a policy in pursuance of which American will with resolution and common sense insist upon their rights being respected by foreign powers, then we are ‘jingoes’.”


Can someone give a more specific example of jingoism in America?

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