Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pardon my French (Part II)!

Pardon my French (Part II)

As promised, more French tit-bits or French-related phrases, courtesy of the wonderful 6th edition of the Brewer's Dictionary of Phrases and Fables, first published in 1870.  

Today is G to Z

The Most Noble Order of the Garter, which is the highest order of knighthood in Great Britain and the world, instituted by King Edward III about 1348 (then reconstituted in 1805 and 1831) and which only admits royalty amongst its members. We all know that the motto of the order is 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' (shame to him who thinks evil of it), but where does it come from? Well,  according to popular legend, Joan, Countess of Salisbury, accidentally slipped her garter at a court ball. It was picked up by the king who gallantly diverted the attention of the guests from the countess by slipping it around his own knee and saying as he did so: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense.'

In France there are still wedding receptions where the poor bride has to stand on a table, lift the hem of her wedding dress and push her garter up from the ankle to the top of her thigh as guests put money into a pot or a hat and shout encouragements (or salacious comments). I remember a wedding where the bride was in tears as the groom urged her to keep going so that they would have more money! What a way to start married life... 

The Guillotine, named after its inventor Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a French physician. It was introduced it in April 1792 to avoid 'unnecessary suffering'.

The Immortals or 'Les Immortels' are the forty members of the French Academy whose job is to write the dictionary of the French language and allocate various literary prizes. The Academy was first introduced by the Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, then reintroduced in 1816. It is an honour to be voted into the 'Academie Française' and once you are in, you cannot be dismissed. The 'Academiciens' meet every Thursday afternoon behind closed doors and only have one public session a year, in December.
A Lamourette Kiss (isn't that a lovely word?) is used to denote an insincere reconciliation between two opponents. From the Abbé Lamourette who in July 1792 urged the different factions of the Legislative Assembly to lay aside their differences and give the kiss of peace. It didn't work for very long.

A la Lanterne! Or Hang him from the lamp-post! A cry and custom introduced in Paris during the French Revolution. Many of Paris' street lamps were hung from iron brackets very suitable for that sinister purpose.

L'Homme au Masque de Fer (The Man in the Iron Mask). I have always been fascinated by the story, the legend of the mysterious individual held for over forty years as a State prisoner by Louis XIV at Pignerol and other prisons, and who ultimately died at La Bastille on November 19th 1703, with his identity still undisclosed. His name was given as 'Marchiali' when he was buried. No one knows to this day who he was. Some suggested that he was the King's twin brother, or even an older brother fathered by the Cardinal Mazarin or the Duke of Buckingham. Others that he was the King's own natural son by Madame de La Valière. It is now considered probable that he was the Count Girolamo Mattioli, Minister to the Duke of Mantua, who acted treacherously towards King Louis XIV by refusing to honour a treaty.

La Bibliothèque Mazarine was the first public library in Paris, and was founded thanks to the 40,000 books the Cardinal gave the city on his death in 1661.

Montjoie Saint Denis was the war-cry of the French, and Montjoie was the battle cry of French heralds at tournaments and the title of the French king of arms.

Parole. A verbal promise given by a soldier that he will not abuse his leave of absence or by a prisoner of war that he will not attempt to escape. I only put this one into the post so that I could link to this absolutely great (and just a little cheesy) song 'Parole' sung in the seventies by Dalida and the impossibly handsome Alain Delon. Of course, in the song, 'Parole' only means 'words' or 'empty promises'.


This is the Court of King Pétaud, where everyone is master! This French proverb means that there is no order or discipline. Le roi Pétaud was the title of the chief who was elected by the fraternity of the beggars in medieval France, and in whose court all were equal.

To do something with sang-froid is to remain cool and collected and how no sign of agitation or excitement.

Sans Culottes (without knee-breeches, therefore not from the upper classes or the aristocracy). This was the name given during the French Revolution to the extremists of the working classes. When the Revolutionary Calendar was created in 1792 (see my earlier post from July 2012), five days of holiday were added after the last month of the year, Fructidor (which would be in September), which were called the Sans Culottides .

Do you have any other French phrases or sayings? If you do, I would be delighted if you could leave a comment.


  1. Very interesting . There are a lot of good French Canadian expressions too. Like: pays de chien - a place where it rains a lot; entre le chien et le loup - dusk; cochonerie - a curse word that means pig rubbish; not to mention most of the swear words based on aspects of the mass. For example: chalice, hostille (host); baptême - baptism; etc. Ironically, the Quebecois have recently picked up a lot of English swearing and drop the words like they`re ordinary words. Most of them have no idea it`s swearing. You often hear, ``C'est bien fucké!``

  2. Hi Suzanne and thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment. I love 'entre chien et loup' for dusk! We say it in French too. French Canadian has such vivid and imaginative expressions and phrases and the accent is wonderful, of course!

  3. I loved your post, Marie - I love to hear where expressions come from. We have quite a few great French sayings in English, eg coup de grace, carte blanche, and (my favourite) amuse-bouche. And it was interesting to hear the French Canadian expressions, Suzanne. Funny, I live in an area with many Pakistanis, and they often drop our English swear words into their Punjabi/Bangladeshi, in exactly the same way. I suppose the English must be great ones for swearing!

  4. Thank you Helena for visiting and for your comment. I do like coup de grâce and amuse-bouche too! Don't worry about the English and swearing. Every time I go back to France I revert back to my old French ways, which include saying quite a few naughty words too!

  5. These are fascinating! I hadn't heard of a few, and I loved learning more about the others. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hello Meradeth and thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment. There are so many French phrases we use in English, it's hard to choose!

  7. Lots of good information in your post, Marie. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Thanks Victoria! I am glad you found it interesting.

  9. I loved your post. Interesting information on all the French expressions. Sometimes we come across these expressions while reading and sounds so exotic!

  10. Thank you Nas for visiting and for your comment. There are so many more French expressions, I had to pick and choose. Maybe I will do another post with all the others I had to leave out!