Filer à l’anglaise: A French expression you may hear today

Australia could be said to have ‘fled English-style’ from its submarine deal with France. We look at what the expression means and its possible origins

21 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

Following Australia’s controversial withdrawal from the French submarine deal in favour of the Aukus agreement, you may hear the expression ‘filer à l’anglaise’ used to describe Australia’s actions. 

To ‘dash off like the English’ or ‘escape in the style of the English’ means to leave discreetly, often unnoticed, and without saying goodbye - and implies a lack of manners.

The phrase came into common use around the end of the 19th century with numerous theories regarding its origins, most of which point to rivalry between the UK and France.

It is said that the uncomplimentary idiom is a response to the English expression ‘to take French leave’, which is used to describe a departure without notice or announcement.

The English expression was coined around the time of the Seven Years War, which ended in 1763, and is said to derive from the French habit of leaving an event without addressing the host or hostess.

The French are said to have been offended by the English expression and created their own equivalent a century or so later.

In a similar vein, it is also theorised that the French expression derives from the verb ‘anglaiser’, which meant ‘to steal’ but is no longer used in modern French.

Thus, ‘filer à l’anglaise’ makes reference to the way a thief would make their exit as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.

Other sources trace the origins of this expression back to the 16th century, when creditors would be referred to as ‘Englishmen’. A debtor would flee or ‘go the English way’ when in a financial hole and faced with the possibility of a visit from a creditor.

Lastly, some linguists suggest the term comes from the word ‘anguille’, which is French for ‘eel’.

​​An eel, with its smooth and slippery movement, is notoriously difficult to catch, which draws a comparison with the act of slipping or slithering away from an event or a responsibility.

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