origin and meanings of ‘jingo’


meeting of jingoes in Guildhall, London - Cassell's History of England (vol. 7, 1910)

meeting of jingoes in Guildhall, London – from Cassell’s History of England – vol. VII, 1910





The word jingo first appeared as a piece of conjuror’s gibberish in The grounds & occasions of the contempt of the clergy and religion (London, 1670), by the English college head and satirist John Eachard (baptised 1637-died 1697):

(1672 edition)
He that in his Youth has allowed himself this liberty of Academick Wit, by this means he has usually so thinn’d his judgment, becomes so prejudiced against sober sence, and so altogether disposed to trifling and jingling: that so soon as he gets hold of a Text, he presently thinks that he has catch’d one of his old School-questions; and so falls a flinging it out of one hand into another, tossing it this way and that; lets it run a little upon the line, then ‘tanutus, high jingo, come again’; here catching at a word, there lie nibling and sucking at an ‘and’, a ‘by’, a ‘quis’, or a ‘quid’, a ‘sic’ and a ‘sicut’; and thus minces the Text so small, that his Parishioners, until he rendevouze it again, can scarce tell what’s become of it.

In this text therefore jingo might be a mere piece of sonorous nonsense with an appearance of mysterious meaning.

The word then occurs in Pantagruel’s voyage to the oracle of the bottle being the fourth and fifth books of the works of Francis Rabelais (London, 1694), by the English journalist and translator Peter Anthony Motteux (1663-1718), who uses by jingo to render French par Dieu (by God) and sacré Dieu (sacred God):

By jingo, quoth Panurge, the Man talks somewhat like, I believe him.
Par Dieu, dist Panurge, je l’en croy.*
And if they were painted in other Parts of your house, by Jingo, you would presently conskite [= shit] your self wherever you saw them.
Si painctes estoyent en aultre lieu de vostre maison, en vostre chambre, en vostre salle, en vostre chapelle, en vos gualeries, ou ailleurs, sacre Dieu, vous chierez partout sus l’instant que les auriez veues.*

(* from the 1823 edition of Le Quart Livre (1552), by the French satirist François Rabelais – circa 1494-1553)

The word used by Motteux is contemporary with the conjuror’s term, so that it may be presumed, though not proved, to be the same word. In the translation, it is substituted as in many other cases for a sacred name: in by jingo, jingo would therefore be a euphemism for Jesus, comparable to golly, euphemism for God in by golly and jappers, euphemism for Jesus in by jappers. (The Scots by jing, by jings, which has long been in use, may be an alteration of by jingo.)

An alternative conjecture identifies jingo with Jainko, the Basque word for God. In A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1966), Ernest Klein (1899-1983) wrote:

Possibly corruption of Jainko, name of the supreme god of the Basques, from whom the word was brought into England through the medium of the Basque soldiers used by Edward I in his Welsh wars.

The British philologist Ernest Weekley (1865-1954) had already suggested the following in An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921):

Perhaps Basque Jinko, Jainko, God. It may have been picked up from Basque sailors, who were always employed as harpooners by the early whalers.

Although this origin is not impossible, it is as yet unsupported by evidence.




The use of jingo in the sense of a loud and bellicose patriot is ultimately the outgrowth of an immensely popular music-hall song written and composed by George W. Hunt (circa 1839-1904) and interpreted by Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (1845-1901), one of the stars of the Victorian music hall, during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. In Popular Music in England, 1840-1914: A Social History (Manchester University Press, 1997), Dave Russell explains:

In April of that year [1877], Russia declared war upon Turkey and, despite fierce Turkish resistance, gradually gained military superiority. British fears centred on the possibility of the Russians reaching Constantinople, thus gaining direct access to the Mediterranean and challenging Britain’s naval supremacy in that area. In fact, British military involvement was not required and an armistice was eventually signed in January 1878, with the Russians too exhausted and too concerned about the presence of British warships in the Sea of Marmara to risk an attack on Constantinople. The Congress of Berlin in the summer of 1878 finally settled many of the territorial issues at stake. The conflict pointed up fundamental fissures within the British party system. The Liberal Party, under Gladstone, was essentially anti-Turkish as a result of the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ of 1876 in which some 12,000 Bulgars were massacred by Turkish troops. The Conservatives, led by Disraeli, were pro-Turkish, seeing Turkey as the gallant bulwark against Russia’s westward expansion, and threatened war if necessary.
From the very outset of the conflict the music hall took a firm stance fairly close to that adopted by the Conservatives. Britain would not fight unless she had to, but if Turkish sovereignty were threatened, then the navy would show the Russians a lesson. These sentiments were neatly catalogued in the most famous of the songs to emerge at this time, and probably the most famous of all music-hall patriotic songs, ‘MacDermott’s Warsong’, or the ‘Jingo Song’ as it instantly became known:
     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.
Written by G. W. Hunt and probably first performed in early May 1877, the song was quickly picked up by pro-war factions within the Conservative Party, thus gaining connotations not necessarily intended at its inception.
The warsong is extremely well known, if only as the song that put ‘jingoism’ into the language, but it is rarely appreciated that it was only one, albeit the most popular, of many such pieces. At almost the same time, Fred Albert launched ‘We Mean to Keep our Empire in the East’ and ‘Turkey and the Bear’. Later, Harry Rickards offered ‘Hats Off to the Empire’ and ‘The Lion Wags its Tail’, Charles Williams offered ‘The congress Dinner; or Who’s Going to Carve the Turkey’, and Hunt and MacDermott tried to repeat their success with a second warsong, ‘Waiting for the Signal’. The major commercial entertainment industry of the age was staking a strong claim to becoming an institution of informal political education.

The earliest mention of the song that I have found indicates that it was already popular at the end of May 1877; the following is from the column The London Music Halls in The Era (London) of the 20th of that month:

Mr Macdermott […] aroused his hearers to enthusiasm by his stirring “War Song.”
On Monday evening last […] Mr Macdermott, for want of time to do more, limited his labour to singing his anti-Russian song “We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do,” &c.

The first known user of jingo as a nickname for the warmongers who had appropriated MacDermott’s “War Song” was the British secularist, co-operator and newspaper editor George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) in a letter published by The Daily News (London) of 13th March 1878:

THE JINGOES IN THE PARK.”—Under this heading Mr. G. J. Holyoake writes to us:—“Now the Hyde-park meetings are over, someone ought to say that for any persons to take truncheons with them to a meeting was to the last degree imprudent and suspicious, as affording a pretext for those to act upon who would put an end to the right of meeting there at all. I am on the side of peace, but l object to fight for it. If peace is to prevail, it must be promoted by other arts. I am one of those who advocate a freer use of Sunday; but fighting on that day is not one of the uses in my mind. If violence is contemplated, Saturday afternoon is the better time for that, since working men who are injured would have time to recover on the Sunday, and be ready for the work-shop on Monday morning. Recent experience has shown that the usual English peace of public meetings is only broken by the ‘Friends of Order,’ and it is gratifying that the better class of trade unionists and working men did not go to the park on Sunday to transfer to themselves that bad ‘pre-eminence.’ Lieut. Armitt, the leader of the Jingoesthe new tribe of music-hall patriots who sing the jingo song—may be safely left to his own devices in future.”

I have discovered that the word jingoism was coined only a couple of days later, by the English journalist George Augustus Sala (1828-95) in his column Echoes of the Week of the 16th-March issue of The Illustrated London News:

The Russians in Constantinople! You may think that I have at once, in mentioning such a contingency (or it may be an actuality), violated my own voluntary obligation to abstain from political discussion. It so happens, however, that the Russians to whom I am alluding were in occupation of Byzantium five-and-forty years ago.
[Sala then quotes the Editor of the Examiner, who explained in 1833:]
“The Russians now reign as protectors; […] this protection will be a considerable gain, which ought not to be interfered with.”
[Sala concludes:]
Jingoism” was certainly at a discount in the year ’33, and the Eastern Question was judged, perhaps, a little more dispassionately than is at present the case.

In Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life (London, 1893), George Jacob Holyoake reflected on the coinage and meaning of the name jingo:

I had certainly intended to mark, by a convenient name, a new species of patriots who, often found in the germ state in their native haunts, had propagated in the bibulous atmosphere of a Tory Government, had begun to infest public meetings, and were unrecognised and unclassified.  Their characteristic was a war-urging pretentiousness which discredited the silent, resolute, self-defensiveness of the British people. […] A term to obtain currency must be brief, relevant to the time, and easily spoken.  The qualities I did not invent.  I had no merit save that of discerning them in the new political pretensions of the Music Hall party and their Jingo song.
There is an abuse of the term when applied to politicians of intelligence and sober thought who are for the consolidation of the empire or for imperial policy.  The Jingoes are mainly the habitués of the turf, the tap-room, and the low music halls, whose inspiration is beer, whose politics are swagger, and whose policy is insult to foreign nations.

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