Friday, August 12, 2011

Pardon My Xhosa / French.

Now I am sure you have all heard the idiomatic request to “Pardon my French”, when someone has used a swear word in polite circles. But have you ever wondered where the expression came from and why it was French and not say Spanish or Portuguese or any other language for that matter, that you were being asked to pardon?
Well I was reading somewhere (Hot Word Blog) that: ““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.”
Well fairly elemental so far there, so now let’s look as to why French and not some other language. And the answer is probably both Geographical and Historical!
Yes, it is probably because, being closest to England and being at war with England for many, many centuries, all things French would have been looked down on as profane, by the English.
And as a complimentary “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.”
The latter particularly is a very reasonable explanation I feel, based on my own personal experiences in totally different parts of the world.
Many years ago, when we thought we might be going as missionaries to a French speaking country in Africa, I tried to learn French for a while. Even bought a set of Second hand Lingaphone French language records and such. At one stage, I even worked with a French speaker from Mauritius, unfortunately he didn’t think very much of my early attempts, and when the French countries closed their doors to us metaphorical speaking initially, we looked (supposedly temporarily) at some English Speaking countries in the short term. That very briefly is how we ended up In the Then Republic of Transkei, now back as part of South Africa) working with the Xhosa people there, for nearly 12 years.
And although I tried hard to learn Xhosa, I succeeded only to the degree that I knew and could speak certain phrases as well as many Xhosa, but I never really understood the language enough to carry a full conversation in it.
None the less there were are certain words and phrases that we learnt and used so commonly, that even today, nearly 9 years out of there, I still occasionally have to say to someone , pardon my Xhosa! Not because I was swearing at them; just using a word they had no clue of the meaning let alone origin.
Which finally brings us to our point today. Whether in French, Xhosa, any of the thousands of other languages currently in the world, or even in modern idiom, what words or expressions are you currently using, that the people that you are speaking to have no clue, what you are saying and by rights you too should be saying, “Pardon my French or whatever”? Over to you for now.

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