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French letter = condom?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Mph redux, Jul 18, 2007.

  1. Mph redux Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    Hi,

    I've just learned that condoms in UK may be also called French letters.
    How come?

    cheers,
    mph
     
  2. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    Italy
    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    It would be quite an old-fashioned way to refer to them.

    I believe it stems from the fact that they were issued to British soldiers on leave in France during World War One.
     
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED's earliest quotation is from around 1856.

    I seem to recall that a condom in French is a capote Anglaise = English overcoat, which adds further confusion.
     
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    It's a large overcoat with a hood, usually - an item of military costume: here's the best photo I could find - surplus stock from the hospital corps - http://www.stockdenfert.com/product_info.php?products_id=31, or the hood of a convertible car. In normal circumstances I would now produce my piece on the habit all over Europe of attributing contraceptive devices, diseases, and particularly nasty habits, to neighbouring countries, with examples - it's funny: some have even called it brilliant, but last time I gave it to the world I was Panjed. I'm now braced for the worst.
     
  5. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    Italy
    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    Go on, I'm listening... ;)
     
  6. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Oman
    English (USA)
    Oh Thomas, you wouldn't!
     
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If someone could rationally and effectively give an answer to the specific question of this thread, I am sure it would be appreciated ... ...
     
  8. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Oman
    English (USA)
    Well, in French, lettre d'amour means love letter, and lettre de présentation means letter of introduction. Maybe there is some history there ...
     
  9. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    Here's a reasonable explanation:

    "The most likely origin of "French letters" lies in an interesting but now obsolete verb let, ‘to hinder or prevent’, as in "without let" or hindrance and the more familiar tennis expression "let ball" (where the progress of the ball is hindered by the net). . .a letter could refer to someone or something that hindered. The purpose of the French letter is precisely this — to hinder or prevent in this case conception or to prevent the spread of venereal infection" Wise Words - Episode 19 - Can We Help - ABC TV
     
  10. mjscott Senior Member

    Maybe it's a letter because it lets you do what your passion desires without consequences....
     
  11. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    My Websters 3rd International lists "French Letters" (caps.) as slang, chiefly British.

    It also lists "French Disease" as syphilis.

    The French have a lot to answer for.
     
  12. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    The "French" was picked for the same reason that "French disease" and "French kiss" were coined: stereotypes and racial enmity.
    As for letters, I always thought that a condom was similar to an envelope, topologically and in use (as a protective covering), hence the "letter" reference.
     
  13. loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    There is a not so conclusive discussion on the origin of French Letters here. Another source is quoted which:
    which makes me wonder if 17th century warfare was a little different from how I imagined it. I thought they used muskets.
     
  14. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    Italy
    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    Excellent! :D
     
  15. stezza Banned

    english italian
    A note to Packard - the French used to refer to syphilis as the English disease.
     
  16. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    Italy
    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    The fraternal warmth between the French and the English is famous, of course ;)
     
  17. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    And the English called it the Great Spanish Pox because it was brought back from the Americas by Columbus.

    I thought pig's intestine had been used for this purpose for donkey's years - both to inhibit conception and to prevent contagion.
     
  18. Mph redux Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    thanks to all!
    that was really interesting!

    :)
     
  19. Pete M. New Member

    English - Ireland
    Just came across this thread and it reminded me of something I recently read.

    May I suggest that the good Colonel was reading the dedication in Charles Baudelaires 'Les Fluers du Mal' ....
    fleursdumal.org/poem/098 (can't post urls)

    It was published in 1857 I know and that seems to coincide with Panjandrums suggestion, around 1856.

    Your equivalent of fetish porn these days maybe?

    If it was the other way around and Charles B. was referring to Colonel Condum, then by Jingos he must have been a British spy, undermining French society with his wicked words...
     
  20. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Old thread, but this came up in a discussion.

    French is used to label anything considered rather decadent, I think, as the Online Etymology Dictionary notes:
     

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