Often an idiom, “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its parts,” can seem like something from “Alice in Wonderland.” One of the most colorful such idioms combines the profane with a language associated with love.
“Pardon my French,” or “excuse my French,” is an apology for the use of profanity; the expression dates from 1895. Pardon is derived from the old French pardoner meaning, “to grant, forgive.”
So why not “Pardon my German” or “Excuse my Mandarin?” One explanation suggests that during the 19th century, the English often used French words in conversation – a foreign language to most people living in England at the time. Realizing the listener may not have understood, the speaker would apologize by saying, “Pardon my French.”
Why did the phrase become associated with profanity? That’s an enigma. Perhaps the collective knowledge of you, our readers, can provide some insight. What do you think is the reason? Let us know.
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