"Pardon my French" or "Excuse my French" is a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising profanity as French. The phrase is uttered in an attempt to excuse the user of profanity or curses in the presence of those offended by it under the pretense of the words being part of a foreign language.
The phrase has found large use in broadcast television and family films where less offensive words are preceded by "pardon my French" to emphasize their meaning without violating censorship or rating guidelines. A good example is in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Cameron calls Mr. Rooney and says, "Pardon my French, but you're an asshole." In another segment, Bueller says, "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you were to shove a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."
A possible meaning is suggested on phrases.org.uk, which suggests that the phrase "derives from a literal usage of the exclamation. In the 19th century, when English people used French expressions in conversation they often apologised for it - presumably because many of their listeners (then as now) wouldn't be familiar with the language." The definition cites an example from The Lady's Magazine, 1830:
- 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.
"Embonpoint" is French for 'plumpness'; state of being well-nourished'.
Ironically, several expressions are used by both the English and the French to describe the same culturally unacceptable habit, but attributing the habit to the other people : e.g., "taking French leave" (leaving a party or other gathering without taking polite leave of one's host) is referred to in French as "filer à l'anglaise" (literally, "flee English-style"), while the (now somewhat archaic) expression "French letter" (referring to a condom) is rendered in French as "capote anglaise" (English hood or cap). During the 16th century in England (as well as in Italy and much of the Holy Roman Empire), genital herpes was called the "French disease" and "French-sick" was a term for syphilis. These are also considered examples of Francophobia, as well as the thought that in continental Europe French armies were spreading sexually transmitted diseases.