Excuse my French (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Excuse my French"?

The term "excuse my French" means please forgive my swearing. It also appears as "pardon my French."
Excuse my French (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Oh, you little b**tard! That hurt. Oh, sorry. Please excuse my French.
  • The man is clearly a f**king — excuse my French — idiot!
  • Don't be a d*ck, Tony. Pardon my French.
French was the official language of England from 1066 till 1362 (about 300 years). It did not peter out quickly, particularly among the aristocracy, and it wasn't uncommon in later centuries for the English to accidentally use French words when talking. So, initially, the term "excuse/pardon my French" was literally a request for the listener to pardon the use of increasingly unfashionable French. This is likely how the term was initially popularized.

The use of this expression with "French" as a synonym for "swear word" originates from the early 1800s, when the rivalry between England was France was at its height. (It was of course the era of the Napoleonic Wars.) If a person swore in polite company, they would quickly follow up with "excuse my French" as a witty way to apologize for swearing. The idea was that French words were as disagreeable as swear words.

Competing Theory

Another theory suggests that someone who let slip a swear word in polite company would try to pass it off as French by asking for forgiveness for using French. (Detractors of this theory highlight that both parties would always have known that the word was a swear word.)

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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