Some English-speakers stereotype the French as permissive about
anything risqué. This was particularly true a hundred years ago when
the phrase took off as an "apology" for swearing. "Excuse my French"
or "Pardon my French" isn't just play-acting that you're speaking a
foreign language. It's also a bit like saying, "I know those words are
naughty - but maybe I could get away with behaving like that in
France, where people are more tolerant of obscenity."
What is the origin of the phrase pardon my French?
This phrase, in which French refers to "bad language", is employed
when the speaker feels compelled to use an obscenity despite having
listeners who might be offended. It's a late 19th century euphemism
which first appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1895.
It is thought that the term French is employed in this sense as it
already had a history of association with things considered vulgar.
As far back as the early 16th century, French pox and the French
disease were synonyms for genital herpes, and French-sick was another
term for syphillis. The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] also equates
the adjective French with "spiciness", as in French letter for
"condom", French kiss (1923) and French (i. e. "sexually explicit")
novels (from 1749).
Why does someone who swears "apologize" by saying, "Pardon my French?"
This phrase is simply another of the many American and English
expressions that equate anything French with sex and obscenity. French
postcards, French novels and French kissing connote the risque.
"Pardon my French" started circulating on both sides of the Atlantic
around 1916, and almost certainly stems from the World War I escapades
of American and British soldiers.
Q.: Where does the phrase "pardon my French" come from?
A.: The phrase in this form started out in the 1950s as an offshoot
of "excuse my French." This is a result of racial stereotyping -
Anglo-Saxons of the late 19th century blamed the French for anything
remotely dirty. The belief started in the mid 19th century and held
that was France sex-obsessed and pornographic.
. . . the idea that the French people are sexually liberated or even
promiscuous. Similar phrases include, "pardon my French"
. . . the British [..] have considered the French to be vulgar [...]
To say "pardon my French" is to say that you are about to behave as a
Frenchman would, i.e. you are about to say something vulgar.
More on European national stereotypes, including "pardon my French":
Thanks for the interesting question! If you want me to clarify
anything, just ask and I'll be happy to help.
Regards - Leli
"excuse OR pardon my french" etymology OR phrase
"excuse OR pardon my french" risque OR "french kiss"