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9 “French” Things That Aren’t Actually from France

There are some things that the English language prefixes with being “French,” but are not actually of French origin at all.

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French stereotypes are quite ubiquitous in America, and the things we expect to find on a first visit to the popular tourist destination are often valid to a certain extent: berets, baguettes, and pastries galore. While there are an array of quirky and wonderful things that can be accredited to the bustling country, there are some things that the English language prefixes with being “French,” but are not actually of French origin at all. Even some of you francophiles are guaranteed to be surprised by the true origins of these terms mistakenly coined to be products of France. Here are 10 actually French phrases that you should know.

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French fries

It’s so easy to become addicted to the crispy potato goodness that is the french fry. Apparently, it’s not so easy to determine its heritage. The origin of French Fries have long been an unresolved issue; both Belgium and France claim the treat as their own. However, the salty tale allegedly dates back to the 18th century. According to local Belgian lore, peasants living in Meuse Valley often ate small fried fish they caught in the river, but fishing became impossible during the winter months—forcing them to scope out other food alternatives. The villagers soon fell in love with the potato (since it was cheap), and began slicing and frying it much in the same way they prepared the fish. The official term was said to be coined later by American and British soldiers stationed in Belgium when they were first introduced to the delectable snack, and since the official language of the Belgian army was French, soldiers deemed it “French fries.” The name stuck, which means that even years later, we might be giving credit to the wrong country. 

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French kissing

Although we know France is the city of love and dreamy men, it’s highly unlikely that sticking ones tongues down another’s throat is a concept stemmed from there; they didn’t even have a verb for the term until May of 2013, when it was finally added to their repertoire of love-making. According to the Associated Press, it was once deemed as a “Florentine Kiss,” and the term French kissing came from British and American soldiers returning home from Europe after World War I. After witnessing firsthand the lusty affections of the French, they would emulate their observations by greeting their wives and girlfriends in an equally passionate way. So although we can’t assign the term to them, we can give some credit to France for inspiring us and showing us how it’s done.

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French bulldog

The interesting history of the French bulldog actually circulates all the way back to England. Lace makers there were charmed by the toy version of the dog and would let the smaller pups act as lap warmers while they worked. The lace industry eventually shifted to France, but they had already grown such an attachment to the gorgeous pups that they decided to take the dogs with them. From there, they developed its French moniker; the English bulldogs are said to have bred with terriers to create the lovable bulldog breed. The archetypal French bulldog we know today has evolved into something different from the ones back then, but the name itself has never faltered. Check out the origins of these 14 phrases you use all the time

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French toast

French toast, those slices of wonder that is an asynchronous medley of fried eggs and bread, is an old dish, but it predates the founding of France. It actually can be traced back to the Roman Empire, or more specifically, a collection of recipes from the early 5th century AD that called it Pan Dulcis. However, the 15th century English court of Henry V merely popularized the practice by referring to it as “pain perdu” or “lost bread,” since the recipe would entail dunking hard or stale bread in milk or egg mixtures before frying it in oil or butter in order to make it edible again. The French still refer to French toast as “pain perdu”; only Americans tend to utilize the French reference.

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French horn

Descending from early hunting horns, the French horn may have some roots in France, but it is actually German in origin. In the late 17th century, French makers were leaders in the industry of hunting horns and were credited with creating the circular “hoop” shape of the instrument. However, German makers were the first to devise crooks to make those horns playable in different keys;  Heinrich Stölzel invented the first horn with valves in 1814. As such, the International Horn Society refuses to utilize the term “French horn” due to its misleading misnomer, instead referring to the instrument simply as “horn.” Here are 22 phrases that you might not have known originated in the military

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French press

The plunger-style vessel that we’ve come to call the “French press” holds some cultural debate. Since the French dedicated more time than any other group to the art of coffee brewing, many claim a Frenchman must have been the first one to affix a screen to a coffee pot. As allowing grounds to stay out of the liquid is the concept behind French presses, North America began referring to the device as so. Technically speaking, however, it was an Italian designer named Attilio Calimani that took out an established patent. Legally speaking, we guess that would make it an Italian press.

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French dressing

The image that probably comes to mind when you hear French dressingthat sweet, reddish one—is not actually the French dressing you’ll get if you were to order a salad in France. The original French dressing is called la vinaigrette and is made only of a concoction of vinegar, oil, and mustard. The French dressing we refer to is an American invention; in the 1950s, a U.S. manufacturer fashioned a different version by adding paprika and tomatoes, which embedded a slight reddish hue to the mix. We can’t blame them for deciding to term it French dressing—it does make it sound a whole lot fancier. Here are 11 words and phrases that don’t mean what you think they do. 

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French manicure

The French manicure is actually an American-invented style of a manicure. The classic technique of using light pink or nude polish on the nail and white polish on the tips is accredited to American makeup artist Jeff Pink as he was the first to come up with this design whilst working in Hollywood. However, the first people to fall in love with the style are said to be models and clients from Paris, so he generously decided to name the manicure style after his original fans. 

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French letters

French letters is a historical term that refers to condoms. Before the invention of latex rubber, condoms in the 19th century were generally made out of animal membranes, such as sheep intestine. Because the substance was super thin, if the membrane dried out the condom was said to resemble a piece of folded paper—which is where the “letter” reference came from. It was most likely ascribed to the French because of the widely prevalent stereotype that the French are scandalous and more sexually promiscuous compared to other countries. In actuality, condoms were invented in the United States in 1839 by Charles Goodyear, and patented soon after in 1844.

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French braid

Although we can accredit the French for a plethora of incredible beauty trends, the French braid is not one of them. The intriguing layers of intermingled hair strands have been around for thousands of years; women showcasing this style have been depicted in early Greek and Celtic art. They have even been spotted engraved into stone at an Algerian mountain range that dates back to 6000 years ago. Regardless, the phrase “French braid” first appeared in a short fiction story published in 1871 and touted as a new hairstyle despite its being around for ages. Check out these 24 things you might be saying wrong

Hana Hong
Hana Hong is a journalist/storyteller who writes for Reader's Digest, InStyle, CollegeFashionista, Her Campus and The Fashion Network, among other publications. She hails from the Midwest, where she graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA in News-Editorial Journalism, but has a passion for the East Coast.