pardon my French


pardon my French (informal idiom)
/ˈpɑr.dən maɪ frɛntʃ/


  • an informal way to say sorry for using bad language.
  • a light-hearted way to apologize for swearing, pretending the words are in another language.
  • originally meant to apologize for using French words in English, especially when listeners might not understand them.
  • once used to showcase sophistication by using French, including some inappropriate words.
  • used to recognize and mitigate the harshness of cursing or blunt remarks.
  • often employed humorously to introduce or excuse direct or rude comments.
  • commonly seen in films and TV shows to preface frank or rude comments without violating content rules.

Example Sentences

  1. This project is a complete clusterfuck; pardon my French.
  2. He’s acting like a total asshole; pardon my French.
  3. This traffic is driving me crazy; pardon my French.
  4. I found the evening quite ennuyeux; pardon my French.
  5. She’s quite a connoisseur of wines; pardon my French.
  6. Pardon my French, but this is absolutely ridiculous.
  7. These new policies are, pardon my French, a bit confusing.
  8. Pardon my French, but you’re an idiot,” he said, quoting his favorite movie line.

Origin and History

The phrase “pardon my French” initially emerged in the 19th century. During this period, French was considered the language of the educated and the elite. English speakers, particularly those wanting to appear sophisticated, would often pepper their conversations with French phrases. However, not all listeners would understand French, leading speakers to apologize, often humorously, for their use of the foreign language. This literal apology is exemplified in an 1830 edition of The Lady’s Magazine:

“Bless me, how fat you are grown! – absolutely as round as a ball: – you will soon be as embonpoint (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major”.

Linguistic and Cultural Shifts

As the phrase evolved, it began to take on a more figurative meaning. By the early 20th century, “pardon my French” was increasingly used to excuse not just actual French words but any kind of coarse or vulgar language. This shift was partly influenced by the historical animosity between England and France, dating back to events like the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Hundred Years’ War. This long-standing rivalry contributed to the English tendency to label anything vulgar or uncouth as “French,” such as “French pox” for syphilis or “French leave” for leaving a gathering without saying goodbye.

Modern Usage and Variations

Today, “pardon my French” is widely recognized and used in both formal and informal settings. It serves as a preface or follow-up to swearing, often employed humorously or to soften the impact of the offensive language. The phrase can be used in various contexts, such as expressing frustration (“Pardon my French, but this is ridiculous”) or offering a casual apology (“Pardon my French, I didn’t realize children were present”).

Similarities and Differences with “Excuse My French

The idiom “excuse my French” is essentially synonymous with “pardon my French,” both serving the same purpose of apologizing for offensive language. They are used interchangeably, though “pardon my French” might carry a slightly more formal tone. Both phrases reflect the same historical and cultural journey, from literal apologies for speaking French to figurative excuses for swearing.

See also: excuse my French

Share your opinions1 Opinion

This is interesting to me, but I can’t speak French :/ Can I use this expression still? 🙂

‒ Kenneth (no French) July 3, 2024

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