French letter = condom?

  • Black Opal

    Senior Member
    English
    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.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    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.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    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.

    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.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    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 ... ...
     

    coiffe

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

    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
     

    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.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    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.
     

    loladamore

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There is a not so conclusive discussion on the origin of French Letters here. Another source is quoted which:
    ... traces the word derivation to a Colonel Condum of Britain's Royal Guards. This authority notes that the colonel devised the 'French letter' early in the mid-17th century to protect his troops from the French.
    which makes me wonder if 17th century warfare was a little different from how I imagined it. I thought they used muskets.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    The fraternal warmth between the French and the English is famous, of course ;)

    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.
     

    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...
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    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:
    Euphemistic meaning "bad language" (pardon my French) is from 1895. Used in many combination-words, often dealing with food or sex. French dressing recorded by 1860; French toast is from 1630s. French letter "condom" (c.1856, perhaps on resemblance of sheepskin and parchment), French (v.) "perform oral sex on" (c.1917) and French kiss (1923) all probably stem from the Anglo-Saxon equation of Gallic culture and sexual sophistication, a sense first recorded 1749 in the phrase French novel.

    To take French leave, "depart without telling the host," is 1771, from a social custom then prevalent. However, this is said to be called in France filer à l'anglaise, literally "to take English leave."
     
    Top