P is for Pardon my French

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.



17 responses to “P is for Pardon my French

  1. i normally say it after i cursed…also french can course as much as they want it still sounds good.

  2. Interesting how a phrase like that started and why/how it caught on. I’ve said it. I hear it often.

  3. Wonder if it came into regular usage after WWII?

  4. Bloody Hell! Excusé mon Anglais… :) Now that would be something.

    Actually, there is no direct translation. I shouldn’t imagine the French ever even considered using English words to taint their ‘perfect’ language…

    Thanks for a great “P” post…

  5. Weird how we say things and never think of their origins. Damn I hate when that happens.
    Pardon my French lol
    Jen http://werelivingafulllife.blogspot.com

  6. The origin of everyday phrases is often humorous and certainly interesting.

  7. I never gave much thought to where that expression came from. I wonder if most French people find it insulting or amusing?

    (And yes, my mail server is blocking my posts from going out. Apparently my own server has marked me as spam – LOL!)

  8. Oh, my gosh, I know I say it and yes have heard too many times to count and had no clue how or when it started.

  9. Very interesting. I always kind of wondered about that phrase. Actually, it’s a younger phrase than I might have guessed. I have a coworker who says it all the time, which I think is kind of funny since he also speaks French fluently.

  10. You do hear this one a lot. Strange how certain phrases stick around for a long time and others are gone overnight.

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