Pardon my French!

John bought French bread, French toast and French fries for his girlfriend. He entered the room through the French window and gave her a French kiss, before taking French leave…
Expressions or words referring to France are very common in the English language, and we do not always know their origins or what they really refer to. Let’s have a look at the most frequent ones and see how much the French culture has influenced English speaking countries. You can even ask your French maid for a French manicure while you are reading this article!

French breadla baguette

Baguette is one of the symbols of French culture. Many postcards or caricatures picture French people wearing a beret and carrying this long thin loaf of bread. Its origins are not clear, but its reputation is not just a cliché – the French do eat a lot of baguette! They have it for breakfast with butter and jam, use it for their lunchtime sandwiches, have it as a snack or with a meal… The French love their baguette, especially when they have just bought it and it is still warm from the baker’s oven – few people resist having a bite!

French windowla porte-fenêtre
French windows are also known in the English language as French doors. They are big windows, which go from the ground to the ceiling, and often lead to a terrace. They can be used as windows, as they let light in, or as doors, as they are designed to be opened just like a door. I wasn’t able to find out why they are described as French… so I just assume it is because they are quite common in France! (let me know if you have another explanation)

French friesles frites

French fries (mostly American English) are also called chips in the UK. There are two different stories explaining why they are seen as coming from France. Some people think it comes from the American soldiers who tasted Belgian fries during WW1. As French was the official language, they just called them French fries instead of Belgian fries. The second story says the US president Thomas Jefferson loved the fries his French chef had cooked for him, and thus called them French fries.

French kissun baiser avec la langue

French kissing is also referred to as « tongue kissing » (and has many other names depending on the country). As you might have guessed, the word does not really come from France – a lot of other countries do it too 😉 However, it stems from the fact the French are seen as good lovers (or at least very interested in seduction) in Anglo-Saxon countries.

to take French leavefiler à l’anglaise

As you may have noticed, the expression is exactly the same in French, but about the English! It describes the action of leaving a place without telling the host or without saying goodbye. According to the English, leaving a place in such a manner was common among the French in the 18th century…

French toastle pain perdu
French toast is also known as Eggy Bread in the UK. It is made with bread, eggs, cinnamon, sugar and milk. It dates back to the Middle Ages, but does not necessarily come from France. The French call it pain perdu (lost bread) as it is a good way of recycling bread that is too old to be eaten on its own. It is now eaten all over the world, with regional variations in the recipe.


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4 thoughts on “Pardon my French!”

  1. Nice article. One expression I came across recently was to take the French Exit when you leave a prty early. There are just so many French + words in English.

  2. Thanks for these additional examples 🙂
    “French exit” seems to be the equivalent of “French leave”, although it would be interesting to know why there are two different expressions.
    As for the “French letter” and “capote anglaise”, the French and the English really like to mirror each other’s language!

    Let us know if you’ve heard of other such expressions!

  3. recently realized that the use of French in expressions such as French vanilla, French kiss, French window, French cleaners, French toast (france was never big on ‘toasts’), French fries, French leave, French manicure, French maid, etc…does not necessarily refers to anything really French (where does vanilla grow in France? and are the French the only people who ‘French-kiss’?). Rather, one needs to remember that France was never part of the fantastic melting pot in the US. Waves of immigration came from pretty much all over Europe and Asia, then South America and Africa (from the early slave trade to the more recent wave of African immigrants). So in these expressions, French is used as a ‘cooler’ modifier than ‘foreign’. Also France being referenced as a sophisticated culture, anything that needs to be annointed with a smear of high class, fancyness, or simply something vaguely different from American run-of-the-mill productions will be ennobled with a touch of Frenchness, who’s checking anyway.

    Remember only Americans eat “French” fries, no one else.

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