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Excuse my French

[ 2009-05-12 14:30]     字号 [] [] []  
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Reader question: In this sentence – I have had many years of experience with music, and if you’ll excuse my French, that’s the best (here she uses a word I won't repeat) book I’ve ever seen! – Please explain “if you’ll excuse my French”.

My comments: If the “French” word were printed, that sentence could read: I have had many years of experience with music, and that’s the best f-----g book I’ve ever seen!

No, you’ll have to pardon my French too; I could not repeat her word either.

Laughs aside, let’s get serious. “Excuse my French” is an English idiom meaning “Please pardon me for swearing” or “Forgive me for my strong language”. It’s an euphemism covering for four-letter words.

Four-letter words?

Yeah, profanities.


Yeah, swear words for instance.

Swear words?

Yeah, dirty words.

Dirty words?

Yeah, such as fu-k, sh-t, da-n, ok? Words pertaining to sexual or excretory functions or religion, alright? Or unspeakable words, if you will, words that are considered to be dirty or offensive.

Why French, then?

Are the French more prone to uttering profanities than Americans or the English?

Nope, this is just a cultural phenomenon. The British and Americans just blame everything on the French (^_^), as they often do, with or without good reason.

Phrases.org.uk explains “Excuse my French” thus: A coy phrase used when someone who has used a swear-word attempts to pass it off as French. The coyness comes from the fact the both the speaker and listener are of course both well aware the swear-word is indeed English.

Incidentally, in our opening example, the swearing word omitted was used for emphasis, rather than for the purpose of swearing per se.

Per se?

Well, that’ll be for another day.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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