"Pardon my French" or "Excuse my French" is a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising profanity as French. The phrase is uttered in an attempt to excuse the user of profanity or curses in the presence of those offended by it under the pretense of the words being part of a foreign language. Another possible interpretation is that the speaker is compelled to use the distasteful language and is apologizing to the audience for the necessity.
The phrase has found large use in broadcast television and family films where less offensive words are followed by "pardon my French" to emphasize their meaning without violating censorship or rating guidelines. A good example is in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Cameron calls Mr. Rooney and says, "Pardon my French, but you're an asshole." In another segment, Bueller says about Cameron, "Pardon my French, but if you were to shove a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."
It has been suggested that the French language is used because of the association of the French people with vulgarity, and that this euphemism
is an example of Francophobia
. The long standing historical rivalry
between France and England is also plausible as a possible reason (see Hundred Years War
An innocuous theory is that when the English were looking around for a foreign language to put into the phrase "pardon my ...", the closest one and obvious choice was neighbouring French. Additionally, French was for a long time the most-spoken foreign language in the United Kingdom.
Some believe the expression may have come from 1950s intellectuals who were well-versed in French. In the fifties, cursing was considered to be a major taboo, so the speaker would actually curse in French to be more polite. In these instances, "Pardon my French" would refer to actual French.
Several expressions in French attempt to link various practices perceived as unsavory to England, e.g., "l'éducation anglaise" (disciplining children by sexually-tinged spanking). Ironically, several expressions are used by both the English and the French to describe the same unacceptable habit, but attributing the habit to the other people : e.g., "taking French leave" (leaving a party or other gathering without taking polite leave of one's host) is referred to in French as "filer à l'anglaise" (literally, "flee English-style"), while the (now somewhat archaic) expression "French letter" (referring to a condom) is rendered in French as "capote anglaise". During the 16th century in England, genital herpes
was called the "French disease" and "French-sick" was a term for syphilis
. These are also considered examples of Francophobia
In popular culture
- In an episode of the television series Seinfeld, George Costanza remarks to Elaine that he once said to a woman, in an effort to impress her, that he coined the phrase.
- The phrase is used in the graphic novel Hulk:Gray, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. In the book, the following line occurs: "Pardon my French, but that's the biggest pile of merde I've heard all day". Merde is the French for "shit."
- The title of a 1935 Three Stooges short "Pardon My Scotch" suggests a variation on the phrase.
- In the 1990 movie, Tremors, Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) frequently states "Pardon my French" after swearing.
- In the Discworld series of books by Terry Pratchett, the related phrase "Pardon my Klatchian" is used as an equivalent, referring to the desert nation of Klatch, seen as barbarian.
- In the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch Celebrity Jeopardy, Norm MacDonald (impersonating Burt Reynolds) remarks to a previous statement: "Hey, I know some French. You're an ass, pardon my French."