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Often an idiom, “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its parts,” can seem  like something from “Alice in Wonderland.”  One of the most colorful such idioms combines the profane with a language associated with love.

“Pardon my French,” or “excuse my French,” is an apology for the use of profanity; the expression dates from 1895.  Pardon is derived from the old French pardoner meaning, “to grant, forgive.”

So why not “Pardon my German” or “Excuse my Mandarin?” One explanation suggests that during the 19th century, the English often used French words in conversation – a foreign language to most people living in England at the time. Realizing the listener may not have understood, the speaker would apologize by saying, “Pardon my French.”

Why did the phrase become associated with profanity? That’s an enigma. Perhaps the collective knowledge of you, our readers, can provide some insight. What do you think is the reason? Let us know.

236 Comments

  1. Kirkland -  March 28, 2012 - 12:39 am

    Most likely the English hated the French and any word in French was a Profanity to them.

    Reply
  2. Aaron -  March 1, 2012 - 10:22 am

    I’d just like to say to Archon (I know I’m a little late for this) but the Normans weren’t bloody French. It was the Norman conquest. The Normans came from Scandinavia.

    Reply
  3. michel -  September 17, 2011 - 1:41 am

    1 – since french is one of the most popular and speaked globally by many countries
    2 – the french pronounication and terms eveknow are very similar to the neglsi word are pronounced in avery different way, a more “classy” way

    well the fact that i speak both languages, you can see the similarities in both language, evenknow i have to admit the neglsih is much easier teh french, le francais est plus interessant et sophistique que l’anglais …. :D

    Reply
  4. danni brown -  September 14, 2011 - 2:43 am

    in days gone by the english and the french were not in good terms

    Reply
  5. Fae -  September 11, 2011 - 7:23 pm

    I always thought it was because the b word sounds similar to the french word bische which meant deer.

    Reply
  6. kadın -  September 8, 2011 - 1:24 pm

    this phrase would demonstrate all the subtlety of a brick through a plate glass window. Profanity

    Reply
  7. Anna-Maria -  September 3, 2011 - 4:59 am

    Personally I use ‘Pardon my French’ after I swear (a bad habit) and I thought it’s French because, well, in France they sort of swear after every word and they have a lot of fowl-words. Although, as I think of it, if that would’ve been the reason why it’s ‘French’ then it should be ‘Excuse my Russian’. xD

    Reply
  8. Tom L -  August 28, 2011 - 7:51 am

    Watch Monty Pythons the holy grail to get a feel for how the English still feel about french. When I lived in Minnesota, we always made jokes about the neighboring state!

    Reply
  9. Amazon -  August 24, 2011 - 7:39 am

    I suspect it started when ladies were meant to be so terribly refined they didn’t understand swearing, so blokes could swear, and then say ‘pardon my french’ and everybody could politely pretend it had been french all along.

    Reply
  10. Katie -  August 23, 2011 - 9:21 pm

    I always guessed someone would say a profanity and then “cover it up” by pretending they were speaking French. Or they would say something taboo but in French so not to be offensive to other company.

    Reply
  11. Archon -  August 22, 2011 - 7:54 pm

    @ Dai Gwynne

    Brit wit?? Surely you jest! Perhaps among the upper class, but the type of Brit most likely to use this phrase would demonstrate all the subtlety of a brick through a plate glass window. Profanity…Oh, pardon my French. Fart…Oh, pardon my French. Belch…Pardon my French. Those with wit wouldn’t use this phrase.

    Reply
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