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Extemporaneous, impromptu not precisely alike

Published: Sunday, Oct. 25 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Q. Is there any difference between "extemporaneous" and "impromptu"?

A. When the subject is public speaking and the two words are being distinguished, "extemporaneous" means "carefully prepared but delivered without notes"; "impromptu" means "composed or uttered without previous preparation." This distinction in meaning is observed not only in public-speaking classrooms but in the wider world as well, as can be seen in the following passages found in our files: "He spoke without a note, and he is a superb extemporaneous speaker"; "It might be misleading to say that these Churchill talks were `impromptu' - for it is doubtful that he was ever unprepared for a speech."

Q. I've always associated the word "chauvinist" with the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s. However, my wife insists that the concept of chauvinism goes back much further in history. Can you settle this dispute?

A. You can end this battle of the sexes. You're both right to some extent. The first chauvinist believed not in the superiority of men over women but rather in the superiority of his nation over others. Nicolas Chauvin was a French patriot who fought under the command of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. Despite being wounded many times in battle, he never lost his patriotic spirit. He continued to idolize Napoleon even after the crushing defeat at Waterloo, and his blind devotion to a lost cause and to the glory of France made him a laughingstock among his countrymen. Chauvin inspired the French term "chauvinisme," meaning "blind or excessive patriotism," which was borrowed into English as "chauvinism" in the last third of the 19th century. The original sense of the word prevailed until around 1950, when "chauvinist" came to denote a person with an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex, a sense most often encountered in the phrase "male chauvinist."

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