Pardon my French
Posted by R. Berg on February 23, 2002
In Reply to: Remember Agincourt posted by Word Camel on February 23, 2002
: : : : : For "Excuse my French", Phrase Finder gives the definition as the origin. Has anyone an idea of the actual origin?
: : : : : Meaning
: : : : : Please forgive my swearing.
: : : : :
: : : : : Origin
: : : : : A coy phrase where someone who has used a swearword attempts to pass it off as french.
: : : : : Thanks
: : : : : m.
: : : : I think this goes back to an age-old rivalry between France
and the UK.
: : : : In the UK, anything considered a bit risque or off-color was considered to be of French origin.
: : : : For instance: "French kiss" "French tickler" etc.
: : : : So if someone used a swear word then they would attribute that word to the French as in "Excuse my French, but what the f**k happened to that report I was supposed to have this morning??".
: : : : Can anybody east of NY confirm this?
: : : "FRENCH - The prejudice that anything French is wicked, sexual, and decadent has let Frenchmen in for more than their fair share of abuse in English. Many such expressions date back to 1730-1820, the height of Anglo-French enmity, but some are current and others go back even further." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Fact on File, New York, 1997).
: : The French are of course a nation for which there is no excuse. Having said that, there are a few examples of presumed decadence in reverse. Old-fashioned English slang for a condom is "a French letter". Similarly, outmoded French slang for the same thing is "un capot anglais" (literally, an English cap").
: Is "excuse my French" used in the UK? I don't recall it. In general the Brits seem much more relaxed about swearing in general. I don't ever remember anyone using the euphamisms of 'dang', heck, etc. Though I have seen people terribly offended by the word 'bloody' - which always struck me as odd. Is this the case, Oh British friends? Or are my glassed growing a rose tint with time?
: As an aside, and because I am a compulsive story-teller, I have to relate the oddest use of a euphemism for swearing I've come across. In high school, there was a very large girl - think 6'3" - from somewhere down South. As if to make up for her stature, she was ultra feminine, dressing in copious layers of pink chiffon. She never swore openly but gritted her teeth and exclaimed "Well Sugar, Honey, Ice, Tea!"
I had thought that "Excuse my French" or "Pardon my French" was euphemistic, like calling the toilet a throne. In the U.S., the French language and culture have an aura of superiority. Whatever is French is thought to be classier than what we've got. Vulgar speech is less cultivated than standard English. French is more cultivated than standard English. So if you start with vulgar speech and rotate a full 180 degrees, standard English being at the center, you arrive at French, which is in that sense the opposite of swearing.