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Pardon My French

Oh, #%*$!!

Oop! Did I say that out loud? Pardon my French!

Pardon my French. Where do you suppose that idiom came from? Really, what does it mean? Under most circumstances, the expression is an apology for when the speaker curses or says something vulgar that might offend people in present company.

But isn’t French the language of loooove, a language of romance? I think of bistros by the Seine, twinkling lights on the Eiffel tower at night, long-legged beauties strolling along with pink poodles, suave men and champagne, love-sick Pepe LePew, and mimes. To me it seems if the French curse, it would sound down right silly or too formal sounding to be offensive.

So where did the expression come from? Why isn’t it Excuse my Swahili, or Pardon my Portuguese?

It all started in the 19th century. English and French were dominating languages in Western society.  But from there, many have their own opinions of how the expression became linked to profanity.

Well-educated people spoke both languages. But if one of these intellectual English stiff upper lips spoke French to someone, well, less cultured, they might be using the euphemism to show-off while looking down their noses.

Maybe the speaker meant the expression as a dig. It goes without saying England and France weren’t always the best of buddies. Could the utterance be linked to the chauvinistic mindset of “us” against “them” and thus the speaker demeaning the one being spoken to? Or is it simply that anything out of a Frenchman’s mouth was considered offensive, thereby when cursing one might pardon themselves for acting like a Frenchman?

Another suggestion stems from the British attributing many of life’s unpleasant misfortunes with the French, most notably that involving sex and the vile diseases that come from doing the naughty. So when something repulsive was said, the speaker apologized (maybe sarcastically) for being representative of France.

The French are pretty laid back people. And from what I understand, cursing is not seen as vulgar as it is expressive. Perhaps when someone let’s loose they are only being frank.

Theories abound, but what do you think? Why Pardon my French and not Pardon my Latin or Excuse my ass-backward Southern drawl? I’d love to hear your reasons.

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