French letter

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French letter

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Jun 05, 2004 1:41 am

why a letter?
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French letter

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 1:56 am

Perhaps because they are sealed with a french kiss? *G* Actually, it isn't reserved to the French only. From the Difference Dictionary:

French letter - Slang for condom, from about 1870. The English also, but less commonly, attributed the condom to the Americans, Italians, and Spanish. In France, it was called une capote anglaise.

Leif of Eatonville, WA
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 2:25 am

looking for why a LETTER rather than a sock , shoe, etc.?
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 2:39 am

For those unfamiliar with the term, we’re talking condoms. The history of condoms goes way back [biblical!!] and includes everything from animal intestines, lambskins, to linen, to modern rubber. If you look for the origin of the word ‘condom’ in a dictionary, they all say of obscure origin or origin unknown and then often go on to mention some popular suppositions: Dr. Condom was court physician [and inventor] to Charles II; from ‘conundrum,’ meaning riddle; from the Latin ‘condus,’ a cup, to conceal, or preserve; from the Persian Kondu, a container of animal intestines, which was originally used to store grain [until someone had a better idea]; from a French village by that name; invented in 16th century by Italian anatomist Gabriello Fallopio [sound familiar – did invent a type of linen condom for protection against syphilis – lucky thing it went in to disfavor or we could have the rubber fallopio as in Pinocchio].

I think that that the most logical explanation is that it is just another in a long list of things associated with the much maligned, sex-obsessed French (WARNING: conniption material for virtue police may follow): French kiss (tongue in mouth), French (verb, to perform fellatio), French love or French way or French head job (fellatio), Frencher (one who enjoys fellatio), Frenchery (brothel), French fuck or French wank [for details, see somewhere else], French postcards (pornographic pictures), French deck (deck of cards decorated with erotica), French pox or French crown or French marbles or French disease or the Frenchman (syphilis), French article (French prostitute), French cap or frencher/frenchie (a condom), French tickler (condom with extras on it), Frenchified (having venereal disease). And there’s a lot more, but it gets pretty messy, and I think by now you’ve got the basic idea. So the French connection (sex not drugs – I’m not being a Frenchist) is clear and an origin of French letter (originating in mid 1800’s – a condom), as in envelope, isn’t too hard to imagine.

(This was a lot more fun then talking about the use of quotation marks).

Ken G - March 29, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 3:08 am

[h]Posted - 29 March 2002[/h]reminds me of the old capot noir joke
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 3:22 am

[h]Posted - 29 March 2002[/h]Prefer earmuffs to capot noirs myself.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Jun 05, 2004 3:37 am

[h]Posted - 27 May 2003[/h]It should be noted that the French letter is also called an American, Italian, or Spanish letter depending on your nationality. Recent events have caused an even further erosion in the eyes of some (you know who) – even our beloved fried potatoes were not immune.

Not mentioned in the earlier discussion are the facts that the expression first appeared in the mid-19th century [see Merriam-Webster] and that it has been accepted as Standard English since the 1950s [Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang].

Hint: If you should get yourDutch courage up (also see Dutch door and start dissing the French in a French neighborhood in Denver (if there is one), watch out for the Irish confetti (a.k.a. flying bricks)!
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Ken G – May 27, 2003
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[h]Posted - 06 Sep 2004 : 09:10:37[/h]The ‘confetti’ should not be capitalized as is not the ‘Irish ambulance/chariot’ (wheelbarrow), ‘apple/apricot’ (potato), ‘caviar’ (stew), ‘clubhouse’ (police station), cocktail (mickey finn – a knock-out potion), ‘comics/funnies’ (the obituary column), ‘dip’ (sexual intercourse), ‘dividend ‘(fictitious profit), ‘draperies’ (cobwebs), flag (a diaper), coat of arms (a black eye), necktie (a rope) – and the list goes on.

The Irish, French, and Dutch have taken the brunt of this sort of thing, but many other racial and national stereotypic expressions exist – but in lesser numbers (e.g. ‘Polish/Italian airlines’ (walking), ‘Spanish supper’ (no supper at all or very little), ‘German gospel’ (vain boasting), ‘Chinese flush’ (a worthless poker hand), ‘Mexican breakfast’ (a cigarette and a glass of water), ‘Greek trust’ (mistrust), Scotch lick (a poorly done cleaning job), Norwegian neckcloth (the pillory), Jewish typewriter/piano (a cash register), etc.
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Ken G – May 27, 2003
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[h]Posted - 06 Sep 2004 : 09:25:01[/h]The object in question is also known as a 'condom', but the origin of this name seems obscure. Condom is also a town in south-east France (a French connection?) and was, in days of yore, a stout fortress, reputed impregnable (so a good tradename/nickname for a contraceptive?). The town of Condom is on the river Baise, and one of the meanings of the verb 'baiser' in French is 'to engage in sexual intercourse', and the word can, in many cases, be well translated into English by the verb 'to fuck'.
So, there is some interesting circumstantial evidence surrounding this 'baise-Condom-French' area, but without stronger historical evidence I do not think we should leap to any conclusions. Anyway, even if this did explain the 'French' association, where did the 'letter' part originate? Could it be a corruption of 'latex'?
The mid 19th century appearance that Ken points out might indicate that the term was picked-up or even coined by British soldiers (who probably had a strong interest in the object and its purpose)in the period of the Napoleonic wars and it then migrated into more general use?

Simple Simon - Belgium


[h]Posted - 18 Feb 2005 : 21:31:34[/h]I haven't as yet found an entry in any dictionary; a historical TV programme last night ("Regency House") said they were so called because 'sent flat through the post'when purchased. Which I find most unlikely. Surely they are letters because they 'let' (i.e. hinder) pregnancy? When a word has two opposite meanings, both in common use, it is likely that a given author will use it either for one or the other, not both. e.g. 'let'. To let blood: to enable it to flow. Without let or hindrance: without prevention.
The former from Anglo-Saxon laetan, to allow; the latter from A.S. lettan, to hinder.Horatio: [of ghost of Hamlet's father on ramparts] "It beckons you to go away with it". Hamlet attempts to do just that, but Marcellus and Horatio restrain him by force.
Hamlet: "Vnhand me Gentlemen. By Heau'n Ile make a Ghost of him that lets me:...". But I think there are plenty of passages where Shakespeare uses 'let' for 'enable'.
OED: Letter: Middle English: one who lets or hinders. 1619.

A further point: when was "French letter" first used? Eric Partridge in "A Dictionary of Historical Slang" guesses "low colloquial from ca.1870". But I've never seen any other attempt, and literary suppression could well mean it is much earlier. And hardly colloquial nowadays. Also 'letter' (preventative) of what? Not sperm or pregnancy, because the device was invented centuries before anyone cared about birth-control.Presumably as a preventive of VD, which was the sole original concern. i.e., a "French pox letter", or device to hinder/prevent the disease. Frenchified: 'venereally infected' - mid 17th to 19th century colloquial. Lexicographers seem to be avoiding an uncertain etymology behind excuses of vulgarity, for what is now a common and accepted term.

John Barton, New Plymouth, New Zealand

[h]Posted - 19 Feb 2005 : 02:23:24[/h]So far no contributor had difficulties to see the word 'letter' in the sense of a little envelope. Which brings up the old question whether a landlord in France is a French letter...

Hans Joerg Rothenberger
Switzerland
[h]Posted - 19 Feb 2005 : 07:32:41[/h]Granted, Hans. But perhaps because words for condom invented later (envelope,etc) or jargon such as 'to post a letter', have influenced them to forget an origin in a little used word. Some people think that, in the days when the envelope was the letter, condoms were often sent by mail. In fact, this would probably have been illegal (obscene transmissions legislations) and evidence seems to be that you had to go in person to remote establishments such as Mrs. Phillips to get them. 'Let' meaning hinder is almost obsolete, but still used on passports allowing people to travel 'without let or hindrance'. In the absence of concrete proof, I'll assume that the world is wrong here.

John Barton, New Plymouth, New Zealand

[h]Posted - 19 Feb 2005 : 17:26:01[/h] Have you considered that the phrase may have originated due to the condom being inside a wrapper? Today's are in plastic or foil, but surely back then something so delicate was stored wrapped in parchment, or vellum or some such. When feeling amorous, there's usually no time to kill and gut an animal for its undamaged intestines.

Russ Cable

[h]Posted - 20 Feb 2005 : 20:53:49[/h]Except that they were inflexible, and had to be soaked in water before use.

John Barton, New Plymouth, New Zealand

[h]Posted - 21 Feb 2005 : 02:29:15[/h]John, quite right. Guess we are better off with latex, apart from allergies, that is. However, although references may be difficult to find, it would still have made sense to fold a condom flat when still flexible, then let it dry, wrap it in an envelope, and hey presto - there you have your 'letter' to which you still can add an origin of questionable moral reputation.

Hans Joerg Rothenberger
Switzerland
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