French leave

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Article from the December 29, 1825 edition of the National Gazette and Literary Register published in Philadelphia reporting that Missouri Senator "Col. Palmer [ Martin Parmer ] is said to have taken French leave and gone to Texas.".

A French leave is a departure from a location or event without informing others or without seeking approval.[1] Examples include relatively innocuous acts such leaving a party without bidding farewell in order to avoid disturbing or upsetting the host, or more problematic acts such as a soldier leaving his post without authorization.[2]

The phrase is first recorded in 1771 and was born at a time when the English and French cultures were heavily interlinked.

In French, the equivalent phrase is filer à l'anglaise ("to leave English style")[3] and seems to date from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.[4]

First usage[edit]

The Oxford English Dictionary records: "the custom (in the 18th century prevalent in France and sometimes imitated in England) of going away from a reception, etc. without taking leave of the host or hostess. Hence, jocularly, to take French leave is to go away, or do anything, without permission or notice." OED states the first recorded usage as: 1771 SMOLLETT Humph. Cl. (1895) 238 "He stole away an Irishman's bride, and took a French leave of me and his master".

In the United States, the expression Irish goodbye is also used.[5]

Military usage[edit]

The term is especially used to mean the act of leisurely absence from a military unit.[6] This comes from the rich history of Franco-English conflict; as Spain has a similar saying concerning the French (despedida a la francesa), it may have come from the Napoleonic campaign in the Iberian Peninsula which pitted the French against an Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish alliance.

In other languages[edit]

  • Czech: zmizet po anglicku ("to leave English style")
  • French: filer à l'anglaise ("to leave English style")
  • German: sich (auf) französisch empfehlen, literally einen französischen Abschied nehmen ("to take a French leave") or einen polnischen Abgang machen ("to take a Polish leave")
  • Hungarian: angolosan távozni ("to leave English style")
  • Italian: andarsene all'inglese ("to leave English style")
  • Polish: wyjść po angielsku ("to leave English style")
  • Romanian: a o sterge englezeste ("to leave English style")
  • Ukrainian: піти по-англійськи (pity po-anhliysʹky) ("to leave English style")
  • Portuguese: saída à francesa ("to leave French style")
  • Russian: уйти по-английски (ujti po-anglijski) ("to leave English style")
  • Spanish: despedida a la francesa ("goodbye in the French way", "French farewell")
  • Walloon: spiter a l' inglesse ("to leave English style")


  1. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Millennium Edition; London: Cassell, 1999)
  2. ^ Parkinson, Judy (2000). From Hue & Cry to Humble Pie. Michael O'Mara Books. p. 80. ISBN 9780760735817.
  3. ^ Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day, September 8, 2008.
  4. ^ "Filer à l'anglaise". Francparler. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  5. ^ Seth Stevenson (3 July 2013). "Don't say goodbye".
  6. ^ For the usage, see for example The war memoirs of Commandant Ludwig Krause 1899-1900, Cape Town 1996, p. 65.