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Q: origin of phrase ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: origin of phrase
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: vinsvixen2-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 17 Jul 2003 23:48 PDT
Expires: 16 Aug 2003 23:48 PDT
Question ID: 232360

where & how did the phrase "excuse my french" originate, in regards to
curse words?  like, when a person curses, they'll say "excuse my
french."  how & why is it "french"?  why not, "excuse my greek";
"excuse my albanian"; "excuse my russian"? etc.  are curse words
thought of as automatically sounding like (or, 'supposed' to sound
like) only the french language?
Subject: Re: origin of phrase
Answered By: leli-ga on 18 Jul 2003 01:56 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello vinsvixen2

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"
vinsvixen2-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
wow, great! very thorough!  thanx!

Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: robertskelton-ga on 17 Jul 2003 23:57 PDT
Phrase Finder says:

Origin: A coy phrase where someone who has used a swearword attempts
to pass it off as french.
Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: magnesium-ga on 18 Jul 2003 12:50 PDT
What an interesting answer!

Thank you, Leli.
Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: leli-ga on 21 Jul 2003 03:03 PDT
Thanks, vinsvixen2. I enjoyed researching your answer.

Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: tols-ga on 26 Dec 2003 15:35 PST
If you read classic Russian literature you'll notice that they speak
in French when they want to use any sort of coarser language. This was
of course limited to the Russian aristrocracy who were more educated
and had the ability to become bilingual. The idea was that they didn't
want to sully the mother tongue with cuss words and such, and so they
spoke in French on these occasions. I can't say for sure, but I'd
assume that this fiction mirrored reality in the use of this language.
 Quite literal example of needing to say "pardon my French!"
Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: malta-ga on 28 Apr 2004 04:01 PDT
very interesting
Subject: Re: origin of phrase
From: soozie1-ga on 01 Jan 2005 15:17 PST
Actually I understand that "pardon my french" referred to the f word
which means "seal" in french.  When people would say FCK, they would
say "Pardon my French" because it IS a french word.

It morphed into "pardon my french" for ANY swear word but that is not
correct.  Pardon my french should only be used for the F word because
that really is a french word.

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