Why do English people say ‘Excuse my French’?

Have you ever wondered where the English expression, “Excuse my French” comes from, to describe someone swearing, or saying something indelicate?

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Today, an article in French newspaper Le Figaro has investigated the origins of this phrase.

The expression would appear to date back to centuries-old animosity between the English and the French, after the Norman king, William the Conqueror, invaded in 1066.

The rivalry continued, and the English image of France was not improved by the Hundred Years War nor by the French Revolution in 1789.

In fact, in the 1790s, Admiral Horatio Nelson is thought to have advised young men that they “must hate a Frenchman, as you do the devil".

However, later on, it became fashionable for English people to use French words in their usual speech, especially for less-than-positive words or meanings.

The phrase “Excuse my French” was therefore thought to be a classy way to show off your ability to use the foreign words, while also excusing any language errors you might make as a result.

One particular phrase, featured in The Lady Magazine in 1830, read: “Bless me, how fat you are grown! Absolutely as round as a ball; you will soon be as embon-point (excuse my French) as your poor dear father.”

This could explain why the expression came to be used to describe something slightly rude, with the phrase later spreading to refer to anything crass or indelicate - whether in French or not.

The expression, in its modern form, first entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1901.

English is not the only language to put the historic animosity between France and England to linguistic use.

French also has an expression: “filer à l’anglaise (“to take English leave”)”, which means “to leave without saying goodbye, without anyone noticing”.

In direct contrast, the English phrase “to take French leave” means the exact same thing...

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