Pardon my French, s’il vous plaît

Song of the Day – Just Can’t Get Enough by The Black- Eyed Peas

Oh, #%*$!!

Oop! Did I say that? Pardon my French!

Pardon my French. Where do you suppose that idiom came from? Really, what does it mean? Under most circumstances, the expression is an apology for when the speaker curses or says something vulgar that might offend people in present company.

But isn’t French the language of loooove, a language of romance? I think of bistros by the Seine, twinkling lights on the Eiffel tower at night, long-legged beauties strolling along with pink poodles, suave men and champagne, love-sick Pepe LePew and mimes. To me it seems if the French curse, it would sound down right silly, or too formal sounding to be offensive.

So where did the expression come from? Why isn’t it Excuse my Swahili, or Pardon my Portugese?

It all started in the 19th century. English and French were dominating languages in Western society.  But from there, many have their own opinions of how the expression became linked to profanity.

Well-educated people spoke both languages. But if one of these intellectual English stiff upper lips spoke French to someone, well, less cultured, they might be using the euphemism to show-off  while looking down their noses.

Maybe the speaker meant the expression as a dig. It goes without saying England and France weren’t always the best of buddies. Could the utterance be linked to the chauvinistic mindset of “us” against “them” and thus the speaker demeaning the one being spoken to? Or is it simply that anything out of a Frenchman’s mouth was considered offensive, thereby when cursing one might pardon themselves for acting like a Frenchman?

Another suggestion stems from the British attributing many of life’s unpleasant misfortunes with the French, most notably that involving sex and the vile diseases that come from doing the naughty. So when something repulsive was said, the speaker apologized (maybe sarcastically) for being representative of France.

photo by Stars Fall Down

The French are pretty laid back people. And from what I understand, cursing is not seen as vulgar as it is expressive. Perhaps when someone let’s loose they are only being frank.

Theories abound, but what do you think? Why Pardon my French and not Pardon my Latin or Excuse my ass-backward Southern drawl? I’d love to hear your reasons.

16 Responses to Pardon my French, s’il vous plaît

  1. Hahahaha! I love the “Excuse my ass-backward Southern drawl?” Thanks for the laughs today!

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    LOL. Angela! Is my Texan showing? 🙂 Thanks for popping in.

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  3. katerina says:

    This is from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html , I site I use often. Its great for research.

    The source of the phrase is earlier and derives from a literal usage of the exclamation. In the 19th century, when English people used French expressions in conversation they often apologised for it – presumably because many of their listeners (then as now) wouldn’t be familiar with the language. An example of this was given in The Lady’s Magazine, 1830:

    Bless me, how fat you are grown! – absolutely as round as a ball: – you will soon be as enbon-point (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major.

    ‘En bon point’ is French for ‘plump; well-nourished’. It might seem odd to us now that the speaker, having been rather rude about her compatriot’s appearance, felt obliged to apologise for doing so in French, but not for the rudeness itself.

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  4. jbrayweber says:

    Too funny. The speaker apologizes for the French but not for the overtly rude and clearly uncalled for remark. A comment like that to me might have gotten her a slap across the face with a crisp glove.

    Great site, Katerina. I’ve bookmarked it for future use. Being a historical writer, I’m sure it will come in handy.

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  5. I have to repeat above comment…..HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This was a terrific post and I’ve tweeted and FB it, I enjoyed it so much. We all say it, never knew where it came from.

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  6. jbrayweber says:

    Aww…thanks, Stacey. You certainly butter my biscuit. 😉

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  7. Great comment, Katerina. I’m going to check out that web site!

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  8. William says:

    Never thought about it, but when I was a kid, “Frenchman” jokes were all the rage on the playground, but they somehow morphed into ‘Polish Jokes’, most of which I’ve heard repeated here in Texas as ‘Aggie Jokes’.

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  9. jbrayweber says:

    All the rage, huh, Will? LOL. Thanks for the smile. And thanks for commenting!

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  10. jeff7salter says:

    Glad to have that website, Katerina. Thanks.
    As for the quote’s orgins & current meaning, I’ll reserve judgement until I hear what the French-speaking folks say in similar situations. Do they say, “Pardon my English” ?

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  11. jbrayweber says:

    Good question, Jeff. I’d be curious to know if the expression offends them. Then again, I don’t see the French caring all that much about political correctness. Yay, Frenchie! LOL!

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  12. Nancy says:

    Great post, Jenn! The English are behind “Pardon my French,” I’m sure. Notice the polite “pardon”? The English and French have been at it for years. When we lived in England, one of our neighbours (ha!) commented that “at least” we weren’t French! I believe it’s safe to say the English don’t like the French (but they love to tell Americans how few bars of soap the French use, etc.)There’s even a song about it in a musical about the history of the world. “Everybody hates the French!” And my personal opinion? The French may be laid back, but don’t get lost in Paris. Helpful directions? Good luck! And btw, don’t bring your kids to dinner in London.

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  13. jbrayweber says:

    Nancy, you reminded of a scene in the animated movie, Flushed Away. (If you haven’t seen it, get it. It is way funny!) The main characters are English rats. HAHA! And there is a French special forces team made up of frogs that completely makes fun of the French. It’s all in good fun, though.

    Thanks for stopping in, Nancy!

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  14. Rania Sarri says:

    I don’t know about the French but I’ve always felt kind of offended with the phrase ‘It’s all Greek to me.’!!! As far as I know, my students in Greece feel the same.
    Thank you for the link!

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  15. jbrayweber says:

    Glad you liked the link, Rania. Hope you find it helpful. 🙂

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  16. French Kissing Secret…

    […]Pardon my French, s’il vous plaît « MUSETRACKS[…]…

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