Ever preface the dropping of a curse word with Pardon my French? If you haven’t, surely you know people who do.
It’s such an automatic phrase, it probably pops up more than we imagine. This reminds me, we have a number of expressions preceded by the word “french.”
French kiss, french fries, french bread, french braid.
So, we know Pardon my French is uttered in an attempt to excuse one’s language — for some reason, I imagine the glass-holding lady in the picture above saying it with an attitude — but where did the phrase come from?
And why isn’t it Pardon my Russian or Italian?
Perhaps because we speak English, and in the 19th century, some English-speakers used a lot of French words in conversation.
Like everything in our speech, the term eventually found its way into written works. The first usage appeared in mid 20th century, (according to phrases.org), when a version of the phrase is found in Michael Harrison’s All Trees were Green, 1936:
“A bloody sight better (pardon the French!) than most.”
It appears that some folks in the English-speaking world stereotyped the French as permissive about anything risqué. We know language can be suggestive. That was particularly true a hundred years ago when the phrase became an apology for swearing. A way of saying “I know the words are wrong, but maybe I could get away with using them.”
That view went through a radical change over the years, and today the phrase is part of the American lexicon.
Take Hollywood, for example. In an old “Seinfeld” episode, George admits his willingness to say anything to impress a woman, including that he’d coined the phrase Pardon my French.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? A phrase that originated as an excuse for bad language a hundred years ago could be another way to impress a woman today.
That’s it for now. I have to go work on tomorrow’s bloody post,(Excusez mon français).
Image credit: Photo from http://www.nylonmag.com.