In her President Obama's Silly, Sexist Defense of Susan Rice, Kirsten Powers writes,
It's absurd and chauvinistic for Obama to talk about the woman he thinks should be Secretary of State of the United States as if she needs the big strong man to come to her defense because a couple of Senators are criticizing her.
Powers' article is good and I have no problem with its content. But her misuse of 'chauvinistic' is a good occasion for a language rant.
A chauvinist is someone who believes his country is the best in all or most respects. The word derives from 'Chauvin,' the name of an officer in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. This fellow was convinced that everything French was unsurpassingly excellent. To use 'chauvinist' for 'male chauvinist' is to destroy a perfectly useful word. If we acquiesce in this destruction, what then are we to call Chauvin? A 'country-chauvinist'?
Whether Obama is a male chauvinist, I don't know. But he surely isn't a chauvinist!
Note also that Chauvin was himself a male chauvinist in that he was both a male and a chauvinist. Thus 'male chauvinist' is ambiguous, having different meanings depending on whether we take 'male' as a specifying adjective or as a sense-shifting (alienans) adjective. Taken the first way, a male chauvinist is a chauvinist. Taken the second way, a male chauvinist is not a chauvinist any more than artificial leather is leather. Think about it.
This distinction between specifying and sense-shifting adjectives is an important one, and one ought to be aware of it. See my Adjectives category for more examples of alienans constructions. It's fun for the whole family.
While we are on this chauvinist business, there was a time when 'white chauvinist' was in use. Those were the days before leftists seized upon 'racism' as their bludgeon of choice. Vivian Gornick in The Romance of American Communism (Basic Books 1977, p. 170) tells the tale of a poor fellow who was drummed out of the American Communist Party in the 1950s on charges of 'white chauvinism.' His crime? Serving watermelon at a garden party! And you thought that Political Correctness was something new?
PC originated with the CP.