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I'm not a fan of foul language in any tongue, and even less appreciative when people feel the need to excuse themselves of it yet continue anyway. In English many people have the unfortunate habit of excusing their poor linguistics by passing the blame. Somehow or another, English speakers have developed the expression pardon my French, presumably a hold over from a former era when well educated English people might have known a good deal of French and understandably sometimes wanted to use the choicest adjectives from it in their English communications. However those days are gone and the people who use it most are those least educated and it has become a prefix to the least choice English vocabulary.

My question is, do French speakers have any similar customs of excusing bad language before they utter it, and are there any similar idiomatic expressions that pass the blame for less polite vocabulary on to another people or language?

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I realize this is as much a culture question as it is a language one. I don't speak French, but I am bi-lingual and have observed similar usage patterns in other languages. I am curious if there is such a usage pattern in French and if their are idioms that "pass the blame". –  Caleb Feb 11 '12 at 16:03
I have always understood 'pardon my French' to be a reference to the word 'phoque', the aquatic mammal whose French name is a homophone for one of English's most common vulgarities. –  Dan Davies Brackett Mar 15 '12 at 18:12
@DanDaviesBrackett crèpe, conte, coq ou chiite pourraient connaitre le même problème... –  Romain VALERI Aug 6 '12 at 8:15
It's worth mentioning here that the Quebecois have a slightly different set of profane words, so this answer would benefit if you're specifically asking about France. –  Zoot Feb 19 '14 at 20:48

3 Answers 3

First, this is very difficult to answer in general: such things depend widely on the person speaking, its usual language and adequation to context. Regarding expressions that cover the same type of usage as “pardon my French”, I would translate it as:

  • passez-moi l'expression
  • si vous me permettez l'expression
  • excusez mon langage

But those are not really specific to profanity, while “pardon my French” is mostly used when uttering curses. They can be used to excuse familiar language in a formal context, such as a business meeting.

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Thanks for answering. This certainly helps a little, although I am more interested in if there is a French cultural equivolent than a way to translate. Would it be normal usage in French to use one of those or a similar phrase before whatever utterance was being excused or after as an actual appology? –  Caleb Feb 11 '12 at 16:00
Let me restate my point of view, then: you're asking a question about usage and linguistic registers, so it's very hard (and I would say impossible) to answer in a general way. It depends on 1. the person speaking, 2. the context, 3. the type of “utterance” you may be talking about. So, give us one (or a few) situations you have in mind, and I'm sure you'll get more answers :) –  F'x Feb 12 '12 at 8:33
"I am more interested in if there is a French cultural equivolent than a way to translate." Short answer? No and F'x explains why very well. Besides in practice "pardon my French" does not precede only stuff that is specifically vulgar. You might find it preceding anything that the speakers consider "inappropriate" language (i.e. a scientist could use it when using terms loosely in a demonstration). If you see it through that lens, I'll argue that F'x's proposals are excellent, especially as they are used in the same way syntactically. –  Circeus Mar 9 '12 at 17:49
You could also say : "Si je puis me permettre.." –  Jeremy D Mar 13 '12 at 19:00

In italian we ironically ask someone who said something vulgar

Hai studiato ad Oxford?

That is

Did you study at Oxford (university)?

Implying Oxford is a very good school. On the other hand the English expression is quite an anachronism, since nowadays you can hear profanity almost everywhere in France, even on public television :)

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Although this does not really answer the question asked above, this answer reminds me of a certain English phrase that people say when someone has just uttered terrible profanity: 'You kiss your mother with that mouth?'. –  user3182445 Dec 9 '14 at 5:57

There's no equivalent I can think of. Spontaneously, I'd say "Pardonnez-moi l'expression", but there's no way to, as you say, "pass the blame".

But there's something in the same vein: somebody that doesn't understand a very complicated jargon can say "Pour moi, c'est du chinois". That's the French equivalent of "That's Greek to me". Less employed but still existing: "C'est du javanais".

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