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20 April 2012

Word of the week: “chivalry”

I have been astonished at the number of Russians who have read the previous post (about my lecture next Friday) and who have asked me what the word “chivalry” means. I have no time this morning to attempt an explanation, and in any case it is far too complicated a matter for a blog. What I intend doing is quoting various occasions when I think it, or a related word, has been correctly and illuminatingly used.
     Today's example comes from that excellent magazine Private Eye, from the pen of the late, much lamented Auberon Waugh, one of the world's great diarists.
     Russian readers will need to know that this was 1975, the year Mrs Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party (she became Prime Minsiter four years later). Willie Whitelaw was a charming but rather ineffective old Tory who stood against her in the election and came second. Barbara Castle was an aggressive Cabinet Minister in the Labour government of the day. Dennis Thatcher, of course, was Mrs T's husband (or, some might, say “wife”). The figures quoted in the first line were the numbers of votes cast for the candidates, not Mrs Thatcher's “vital statistics”.

From Four Crowded Years: the Diaries of Auberon Waugh, 1972-1976

     I will look for other examples of the use of the word “chivalry” over the weekend. Suggestions from readers would be gratefully received, too.


  1. In the West it nowadays must be considered an old-fashioned term, which previously meant an almost honourable deference towards women, but which in contemporary PC society would all too often be seen as a patronising and even demeaning attitude towards women. There's an interesting article exploring this theme here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1026140/How-PC-brigade-killing-chivalry-according-bible-etiquette.html So chivalry is more-or-less dead in the UK, but mainly because the PC brigade made it so. In Russia it is, thankfully, still okay to present ladies with flowers and open doors for them.

  2. I believe that in Russian we have almost an identical word "рыцарство" which happens to be a loan translation from French word "chivalry" (or "chevalerie"). This is why I'm rather surprised your Russian readers found the term difficult to understand or look up.