If you'll pardon my French

Discussion in 'English Only' started by rapho1, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. rapho1 Member

    UK English
    What is the origin of this expression? It seems a bit old fashioned. Is it? Also, a tad derogatory.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2008
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    As to the first question, Wiki has some ideas here, rapho1.

    The least likely is the one about 1950s intellectuals - the OED has examples of "French" for bad language going back to the early 20th century.
  3. Cade Member

    Florida, USA
    The meaning of the phrase isn't known, but it's thought to have started in the 1950s or so. There are two theories for the origin: the French were associated with vulgarity, and because of that, French was chosen to complete the phrase; the other is that when the phrase was started, swearing was extremely impolite so the well-educated actually swore in French, which was more polite.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2008
  4. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I don't think it has anything to do with our perception of French morals at all. I have always thought that it is a jocular attempt to pass off swearing as a foreign language. French being one of the most familiar of those taught in Britain, but at the same time not very widely understood by the average Briton. It could easily have been "Latin" or "Greek", I think. The intention is: that wasn't swearing you just heard, it was French.
  5. rapho1 Member

    UK English
    Oh, that's one perception!
  6. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Hi, a dialouge in a drama I don't get it:

    What does she mean by pardon my french?
  7. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    People say "pardon my French" when they have just been swearing or using vulgar language. It's a rather humorous half- apology.

    << Threads merged >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 17, 2010
  8. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Thank you very much and sorry about forgetting doing a search.
  9. mplsray Senior Member

    The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that French, in the sense "[B. 1.] b. Used euphemistically for 'bad language', esp. in the phr. excuse (or pardon) my French!" goes back to 1895, but the example, "1895 [see DURNED]." contains a link (that word durned) which leads to a "There are no results" page (which oddly shows words from dhoon to diabolarch, nowhere near durn or durned.) I tried to find an entry for durned by using the OED's search function, without success, nor was French mentioned under the entry for durn as a euphemism.
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I imagine "durn" is "darn", don't you think?
  11. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Is it old-fashioned? The Wiki article with its lively examples from recent films suggests that it has a function in vigorous modern speech.

    Is it derogatory? I don't think it's derogatory at all. It's an expression like I don't want to complain but, which is used apparently to soften a complaint, or, in this case, a piece of bad language. As we have seen the effect is often to make the bad language more piquant, or tellingly obscene in some different way.
  12. mplsray Senior Member

    Yes, it is. My complaint is that there is no cite of French in the sense of "bad language" to be found in the OED in the entries for any variation of darn/durn/dern, with the result that we cannot verify that French was used in this fashion in 1895, as indicated in the OED entry for French.
  13. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Yes, there's clearly an error (I'll email OED).

    What a good thing my previous post only claimed examples going back to the early twentieth century....

    By the way, the Wiki aricle seems to have changed in the intervening months; it no longer suggests a possible 1950s origin for the expresssion.
  14. Hanna-Elisabet New Member

    I recently came across the expression "pardon my French" and have been told that this is used to excuse (rather humourously or ironically) bad language, but does anyone really use it? Is it used by just anyone or especially by old/young people? And why French, why not another language? Is this "just another expression" that no one really knows how and when it came about? That people use but has lost its original meaning (the reason someone chose French and not something else)? I'm really fascinated by this (as you might have noticed) and I'd love relplies from anyone who's heard it or of it! :)

  15. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    No idea where it came from or why, but it is widely used. I'd say it and my parents would say it.
  16. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Welcome, Hanna-Elisabet.

    Yes, it is quaint—who apologizes for coarse language these days?—but it is widely recognized and still in use in AE.
  17. jpyvr Senior Member

    Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil
    English - Canadian
    I've certainly heard it, and understand what it means, but have personally never used it, nor expect to in the future. It sounds too "euphemistic" for me.

    I'm not sure why French, but let me hazard a guess. There has been a long association in the English mind of France and things sexual. An old English expression for a condom is "French letter", "French kissing" is intimate, open mouth kissing, "to do french" is old slang for oral sex, etc. etc. etc.

    I'm curious as well what other information Word Referencers can add to this topic.
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Today's thread on this topic has been added to an earlier one - found by searching for pardon french in the dictionary and thread title search.
  19. djmc Senior Member

    English - United Kingdom
    I have come across it quite frequently. Men who often do not know a word of French, or rather especially if they don't know a word of French will say this to women perhaps thinking that because women in general do not use obscenities do not know what the words mean e.g. "He is a fucking idiot pardon my French".
  20. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I think people do still use it, but I would say, only in fun. Swearing is so common in Britain, across all classes, that I think few would sincerely apologize for swearing in casual conversation. But, of course, there are still many occasions when an apology would be felt necessary, and in those situations "pardon my French" would absolutely not be the right thing to say as it would sound flippant and insincere. I think for this reason it can never be used sincerely, except by the most gauche (if you will pardon my French) of persons.
  21. Egoexpress

    Egoexpress Senior Member

    Hungary, Hungarian

    I wonder what "apology" would be the right thing to say then?
  22. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Maybe the following example from the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang is the one that was supposed to be listed under durned in the OED:

    1895 Harper's Mag. (Mar.) 648: Palaces be durned! Excuse my French.
  23. preppie Senior Member

    Mid Atlantic, US
    American English (Mostly MidAtlantic)
    I still hear "pardon my French" said sincerely but it's always from ever so polite southern belles and it never sounds shallow when they say it. The rest of us say, "Pardon my language" or a simple "Excuse me" or "I'm sorry' "when some expletive slips out at an inopportune moment.
  24. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    I use it, though it comes out as Pardon me French ~ but it's definitely jokey:

    Politicians are a bunch of *&$%! {#*&£ +?~^%% &€"!!( [etc.] &%;?/(ers ~ pardon me French.
  25. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    There are two scenarios, as far as I can see.

    A) "if you'll pardon my French" means that you are sweating/cursing on purpose.
    B) "pardon my French" is usually said in AmE after you accidentally swear/curse. It just "slipped out", and you'd rather it hadn't, so you can actually be halfway sincere about that.

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