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What’s the Real Story Behind the Phrase ‘Pardon My French?’

dvpfagan, Flicr

When you tell someone, “please pardon my French,” you are in fact apologizing for your offensive language. When French people speak French, they don’t say, “pardon my English” when they want to cuss someone out.

So what’s going on here? Do the French have better curse words than we do?

England and France at each other’s throats

The English and the French have had a very prickly relationship over the years. The English used to refer to certain sexually transmitted diseases as being ‘French’ in nature, while the French often associated the English with pretty much everything that was vulgar in life.

Profanity and high culture

Because of the historical discord between these two nations, it kind of makes sense that profanity in the English language is often referred to as ‘French.’ Don’t’ worry, the French have plenty of disparaging phrases to describe the English (and all Anglo-Saxons), as well.

Education and the art of insults

In England, French used to be an extremely important language. The educated class spoke it and used it daily, as did most of the educated elite in Europe. French words were often tossed into English sentences, and if the particular French phrase was offensive, the speaker might excuse the vulgarity by saying, “please pardon my French.”

As a species, it seems that humans will go to great lengths to insult one another, and then try get away with it. If you don’t believe this, well, you can go and… wait, what’s the French word for that again?

[Urban Dictionary]

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