‘Galloglossia’ (19th-century invasion of English by French words)


John Bull taking a Luncheon—or—British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chère

John Bull taking a Luncheon:—or—British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chère.
hand-coloured etching by James Gillray, published on 24th October 1798 — © Trustees of the British Museum

This print was published just after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile. He is shown in the forefront of British admirals and naval heroes, serving up victories for “Old Grumble-Gizzard”, the British public, to satisfy its appetite for “frigasees” of enemy ships, washed down with “True British Stout”.



a 19th-century British view on the invasion of the English language by French words – from Sharpe’s London Magazine for March 1848:


This is an age of corruption. The charge is often made, but never, so far as we have heard, refuted. But let not our readers suppose, from this beginning, that we are coming forward here as moralists or politicians. Sound morality and sound loyalty we trust we shall ever uphold; but we are not about to entertain our readers with casuistry or ethical philosophy; with dissertations on Aristotle, Paley, or Sewell. We allow that the corruption we would expose is of very inferior importance to those which such writers would check;—still it is important too in its way—for the channels of thought and taste cannot be corrupted without a reflex action on the mind and habits of a people.

John Bull is a strange contrariety. His hatred of the French character is proverbial. Even in this, however, he is not without his contradictions. Contempt seems irreconcilable with hatred—yet, by some strange intellectual chymistry [sic], John seems to have amalgamated both in his contemplation of French nationality. But his aversion to Gallicism is merely directed to the abstraction; it is, as metaphysicians speak, the substance, not the accidents, which are its object; for every individual peculiarity which constitutes the French character John affects and adores. His cooks and cookery must be French; he has exchanged his kitchen for a cuisine; French dishes enter his banqueting rooms to the tune of “Oh the roast beef of old England!” from his hat to his shoes, his dress must be French; his wife and daughters must learn the fashions at Paris. He must have a Frenchman, called by a French word, to dress him; but, above all, (and this is the point to which we would at present call the attention of our readers,) he must discard his honest, straightforward, manly language, and adopt in its stead the mincing and distorted speech of his neighbours; “that whetstone of the teeth, monotony in wire,” as Byron called it, which he hates and despises thoroughly. To such an extent has this corruption proceeded, that we are in danger of losing the language of Shakspeare (a), Milton, and Dryden—if we have not indeed lost it.

In the 165th number of the Spectator we have an amusing account of a worthy squire who received a letter from his son, then an officer in Flanders, which he could not read, on account of the French phrases with which it abounded. It is somewhat startling to observe, that out of thirteen French words introduced in that letter, there are only two which may not now be considered as perfectly naturalized; and vast numbers which would have been unintelligible to the mere English scholar of Addison’s day, are now “familiar in our mouths as household words.”

If the French were allied to the substance of our language, the case might be different. “I can tolerate a Germanism,” says Southey, “for family sake; but he who uses a Latin or French phrase where a pure old English word would do as well, ought to be hung, drawn and quartered for high treason against his mother tongue.” We have, no doubt, many French words in the language; but they do not enter it kindly: they go through a Saxonizing process before they will incorporate: “Chaussée” becomes “causeway (b),” “Chartreuse” becomes “Charterhouse,” “contre-danse” is “country dance (c),” &c. The modern system imports whole phrases, expects Englishmen to adapt their organs to the pronunciation, and supplants good expressive English words without (in the greater number of instances) substituting anything half so effective. No principle, indeed, appears to be acted on, save that of substitution. John Bull has a vague kind of idea, that a French phrase, like a French dish, must be better than an English one. If this be the case, and French really is the superior language, it would surely be better to adopt it at once. But John finds it easier to be a French pedant than a French scholar. French nasals come not kindly to his mouth, nor French inflections to his mind; a little of either is as much as he can manage, but he is determined to show that he can manage that—or, at least, that he thinks he can—which does as well for him.

It is curious to observe the various aspects which the Galloglossia assumes. We had a hatter’s bill sent us, charging us with “Un chapeau Française;” which piece of nonsense the tradesman thought far more graceful than good grammatical English. Nay, the hat itself was designated in the interior, “de Paris,” though the vendor himself assured us not an atom of it had been guilty of Continental travel. At no great distance from the heart of the metropolis, there is a “Magasin de toutes sortes de linens et woollens,” no doubt far more attractive and imposing than if it had been wholly described in the vernacular. In the days of stage coaches we heard in the coffee-room of an inn much frequented by those creeping vehicles, a good stout representative of our insular greatness shout “Garsong!” and a clumsy, greasy waiter respond “Toot sweet, Mounseer!”

John Bull has long entertained the idea that all that is foreign is French; never having habituated himself greatly to any other national distinctions than “French and English.” Hence he is not content with “Henri Quatre,” “Louis Quatorze,” &c, &c.—(though he never by any chance calls the German Emperor Karl der Fünfte, or Friedrich der Erste) but he must designate Germans, and even Turks, by French titles. Accordingly, in the Court circulars, we are informed that “M. Le Chevalier de Meerschaum-Rauchenstein, premier sécrétaire de Légation à S. A. le Duc de Tabackshausen,” and Bucksheesh Pacha (for even this old Turkish title must submit to the French orthography—whence John Bull mystified Ibrahim Pasha into Abraham Parker) “envoyé extraordinaire de S. M. le Sultan,” had audiences at the Foreign Office. Foreign places undergo a similar process: Bruxelles, Gand, Anvers, are fast supplanting the good old pronounceable names of Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp; Aken (as we have it in Clarendon and his contemporaries) would not be known for “Aix-la-Chapelle;” Mainz and Coblentz become Mayence and Coblence; Coburg is perpetually written Cobourg—and this happy idea suggests innumerable Frenchifications of German towns. Even the “emerald meadows of Cashmere,” (Kashmeer would perhaps be better,) grow pale at their new title of Cachemire; and perhaps it may not be long ere it will be antiquated to call London or Dover by their ancient appellations—they being politely designated Londres and Douvres—while our native princes will be Henris and Edouards. Ridinghood, or Riding-coat, whichever it may be, has already re-crossed the Channel in the disguise of Redingote.

When the Count of Narbonne, in one of his French letters to M. D’Arblay, thinks to show what an English scholar he is by saying, “Je n’ai plus à craindre pour elle que the boisterous weather,” John Bull laughs to the peril of his sides; yet he will indite in his newspapers many such a sentence as this: “The cortège, on its approach, formed a magnificent coup d’œil, the very beau idéal of magnificence; in fact, the whole was a chef d’œuvre of splendour, and passed off with the greatest éclat.” And Mrs. and Miss Bull, in their numerous novels, generally give us some twenty-five per cent of French; if that is to be called by the name which would make the leaves of a French grammar stand on end, and of which a Frenchman would understand as much as Cicero would of Magna Charta. There is nothing new under the sun; and Chaucer’s Prioress would be no bad description of Miss Bull in our day:—

          “French she spake full fayre and fetisly,
           (Aftir the scole of Stratford atte Bowe;
           For French of Paris was to hire unknowe.)” (d)

While the Duke of Wellington and the legislature are busying themselves about exhibiting the nakedness of the land on the side of France, and, we will hope, taking measures to remedy it by the supply of good defensive arms, we shall feel but too happy to be instrumental in opposing, as well as exposing, the dangers in which our language is placed from the same quarter. If 40,000 men could be landed on the English coast, and find their way thence to John o’Groat’s, still easier would it be for 40,000 words (if the whole French language contained so many) to make a permanent occupation of all the land amid the four seas. Nay, we believe, while John can wield his stout oak cudgel, he would need neither carbine, musket, nor sabre to serve out Monsieur to his heart’s content. But with an invading vocabulary the case is different. John is there a traitor to his own cause—and therefore the attack is sure to be successful. All we have, accordingly, to do, is to convince him of his folly; for if he once sees this, he will be as jealous of the intrusion of a French word, as he is now of a French bayonet. If he can only be persuaded that his own language is as superior to the French as Waterloo Bridge to the Pont Neuf, he will see the degradation of the substitution. No nation, not even France, degrades itself like ours, by perpetually adopting the phraseology of another language:—

     “Ich wene ther ne be man in world contreyes none,
      That ne holdeth to hir¹ kunde² speech, bote³ Engelond one.”

Moreover, the introduction of French words into ordinary conversation and writing is now very deservedly becoming vulgar; and John, after all, is a gentleman. If these considerations will not influence him to abandon his suicidal fancies, perhaps it may afford him some benefit to see what his family, judging from their progress since the days of the Spectator, will come to in the next century and a half. We feel sure his grandpaternal feelings must revolt from the idea of such an epitaph as the following, penned by a descendant:—

To the Memoire
M. Jean Taureau (e),
A gentleman of the greatest
Bonhommie, naïveté, and bienséance.
A maladie de la langue
Was his destruction,
L’an —

We can well imagine John’s horror at the matter and manner of such a record. We will make him a present of ennui, espionage, surveillance, and other words which represent ideas which, we trust, will never be English; but unless he wishes such a chronicle as we have imagined above, he must limit the intrusions of a French vocabulary on the principle we have indicated. Let him be wise in time, and profit by the advice of a sensible Englishman of former days, with whose words we will conclude. “Many English writers, using strange words, as Latin, French, and Italian, do make all things dark and hard. Once I communed with a man which reasoned the English tongue to be enriched and encreased thereby; saying, ‘Who will not praise that feast, where a man shall drink at a dinner both wine, ale, and beer?’ ‘Truly,’ quoth I, ‘they be all good, every one taken by himself alone; but if you put Malmsey and sack, red wine and white, ale and beer, and all in one pot, you shall make a drink neither easy to be known, nor yet wholesome for the body.’”


¹ Their. ² Natural. ³ But.  Robert of Gloucester.



The name Shakespeare used to be commonly spelt Shakspeare.



More precisely, causeway is composed of causey and way; the first element is from Anglo-Norman French causee (Modern French chaussée), based on Latin calx, lime, limestone (which was used for paving roads).



In reality, French contredanse is an alteration of English country dance.




She spoke French very well and elegantly,
(In the manner of Stratford at the Bow;
For French of Paris was to her unknown.)



The French forename Jean corresponds to English John; French taureau means bull.

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