Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pardon My French

Daniel from Traverse City asked about the use of, “Forgive/Pardon my French.” Today, it is usually uttered to soften the use of profanity by transparently and facetiously pretending that it is a foreign utterance. 

Why French? Well, ever since 1066 and the Norman Invasion, the British have harbored enmity toward the French, and this has been displayed in various idioms, many of them formulated in the 19th century as the result of revulsion to the Napoleonic Wars waged by the French. Thus, we have

·      French leave: an unauthorized absence or departure
·      French letter: a condom
·      French novel: pornography
·      French pox: syphilis

In retaliation, the French would refer to English flight, an English cap, the English vice, and the English malady.

It is possible that the original use of the phrase was a type of apology for actually using a French word or phrase in English conversation. We find an example in The Twelve Nights, by Baron Karl von Miltie, 1831:

“Bless me, how fat you are grown! — absolutely as round as a ball: — you will soon be as embonpoint (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major.”

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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