excuse my French


excuse my French (old-fashioned, humorous idiom)
/ik-ˈskyüz mī ˈfren(t)sh/


  • used to apologize for using profanity or offensive language.
  • said before using a swear word to warn listeners.
  • humorously suggests that the offensive language is not typical of the speaker.
  • historically used to apologize for using non-English words (mostly French) that the listener might not understand.

Example Sentences

  1. That meeting was a complete disaster, excuse my French, but it was just a load of bullshit.
  2. Excuse my French, but that movie was absolute crap.
  3. Excuse my French, but that was a hell of a game.
  4. I am about to become somewhat crude, so please excuse my French. However, this situation is a complete mess.
  5. I am about to be blunt, so excuse my French, but your attitude has been really annoying lately.
  6. Excuse my French, but as they say in Paris, “C’est la vie”—such is life!

Origin and History

The idiom “excuse my French” has an interesting history that intertwines with cultural perceptions and linguistic practices between the English and the French. The earliest uses of the phrase did not necessarily involve cursing but were actually literal apologies for using French language terms in conversation, a practice that might confuse listeners who were unfamiliar with French. This usage is documented as far back as the 1830s, where English speakers would insert French phrases into their speech, perhaps to showcase refinement or education, and then apologize for the potential obscurity—hence, “Excuse my French.”

Evolution into an Apology for Profanity

However, the transformation of the idiom into an apology for profanity has deeper roots in the long-standing rivalry and cultural exchanges between England and France. Particularly from the early 1800s, during periods such as the Napoleonic Wars, the English began to associate the French language with something disagreeable or offensive, similar to swear words. This association may reflect a broader trend where various derogatory terms included the word “French” in England and “English” in France, each attributing undesirable traits or items to the other culture. For instance, “French pox” referred to syphilis in England, while the French called syphilis “le mal de Naples.”

Usage in Modern Media and Culture

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Excuse my French” began appearing more frequently as a precursor to or apology for swearing, with one notable instance occurring in an 1895 edition of Harper’s Weekly. This evolution in usage reflects how phrases can transition from literal to figurative meanings over time, influenced by social attitudes and intercultural dynamics.

Linguistic and Cultural Significance

Various media outlets have humorously used the phrase in modern times, often masking the impact of swearing with humor or attributing it to the French, despite the audience’s understanding that the term is vulgar and not French. This usage underscores the complex ways in which language can serve as a vehicle for cultural expression and social norms.

See also: pardon my French

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