The adjective French has long been used with the implication of sexual adventurousness or explicitness. For example, a Court lampoon of 1682 contains the following about Mary Kirke, wife of Sir Thomas Vernon of Hodnep, Salop:
Vernon, to say the truth,’s [= is] a bouncing wench,
She swears and fucks and all the while’s so French!
But, originally, a French kiss was a kiss on both cheeks.
John Scott (1751-1838), 1st Earl of Eldon, was a British barrister and politician, who served as Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. (In 1772, he famously eloped with Bessie Surtees, who would remain his wife until her death in 1831.) Ellen Forster, his great-niece, recorded that the following happened in 1836 (Junie Manisty was a native of France):
(from The Public and Private Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon – London, 1844)
He [Lord Eldon] desired me to deliver a kind message which he dictated, on business, to the Rev. James Manisty, and a kiss to his lady, which he said he durst not give her in her husband’s presence. Writing to him a few days afterwards, my letter contained the following paragraph:—
“I delivered your message to Mr. and Mrs. Manisty, and they both desire me to return you their grateful thanks; that is to say, Mr. Manisty thanks you for your message, Junie for your kiss, which I took care to deliver, as you desired, in private.”
When we were at Earley Court I received a letter from Junie, containing the following message, which I copied and sent to my uncle, explaining that a French kiss was one to each cheek:—
“Pray, Ellen, say whatever you think most respectful for me to Lord Eldon; but I do not think there would be any harm in sending him a French kiss. It is what no English lawyer can object to, it being only justice to make both sides of the face alike.”
When Lord Eldon read this message, he laughed heartily, declared he had thought he would have lived and died an Englishman in every thing, but really in the article of a kiss he must become a Frenchman. He wrote me this answer:—
“Corfe Castle, Sept. 11th, 1836.
I entirely approve the double species of osculation, of both cheeks, which Mrs. M. recommends, and I shall hereafter punctually adopt that mode of osculation when a French face is in my view.”
The term French kiss came to be applied to the official kiss given to the recipient of a medal. The following is from the Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana) of 31st May 1918:
WILL AMERICA ADOPT THE FRENCH “EMBRACE”?
Kiss of Honor Introduced in Boston as War Crosses Are Given Mothers
Charles S. Baxter bestowing classic French kiss of honor upon Mrs. Andrew M. Seitz, mother of soldier now in France, when presenting croix de guerre won by son.
The classic French “embrace” is a very delicate and significant salutation and is an official part of the honor accompanying the giving of all military and other decorations.
On 14th May 1921, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba) reported that the International Reform Bureau would “make it a principal business to curb the kilowatt-power and voltage of the movie kiss”:
Principal types of movie kisses are:
The eight-minute non-stop soul kiss, too expensive to use except in first-class productions on account of the footage.
The shuttle kiss which is passed back and forth. The put-it-on, take-it-off, wrap-it-up, send-it-home brand is in this class.
The catch-as-catch-can, known as the wrestling kiss where one party is willing and the other is not. This is perhaps the least harmful to the morals of the audience, as the kiss is liable to land anywhere in a radius extending from the chin to the eyebrow.
The French kiss, commonly known as the official hero-medal kiss, is frowned upon on account of its microbe possibilities and not because it endangers the morale of audiences.
The term French kiss also denoted an amicable kiss on the lips, as in this story from The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, Yorkshire) of 2nd October 1886:
His First French Kiss.
An American correspondent in Paris thus describes the rage for kissing in La Belle France:—
“The almost universal custom of kissing in Paris seems at first singular to a stranger coming from a country where the proprieties of life rarely permit you to take a lady’s hand, much less to salute her. In France, to kiss a lady with whom you are not intimate on meeting her is very common; especially is this the case if she is a married lady. Not only the members of the family, but all the guests, expect invariably to salute the lady of the house on coming down in the morning.
“But though the modest American may, perhaps, escape the ceremony on ordinary occasions, yet on the New Year’s morning it is imperative. On that morning I came down to my breakfast about nine o’clock. I sat down quietly, bidding madam “bon jour” as on ordinary occasions. In a few minutes she was at my elbow with, ‘Monsieur, I am angry with you.’
“I expressed, of course, a regret and ignorance of having given her any reason.
“‘Ah,’ said she, ‘you know very well the reason. It is because you did not embrace me this morning when you came down.’
“Madam was a lady of perhaps 28, with jet black glossy hair. She was very beautiful; had she been plain I should have felt less embarrassed. She waited as though expecting me to atone for my neglect; but how could I before the whole table? I sat all this time trembling in my seat.
“At length madam said, ‘Monsieur, embrassez moi.’
“The worst had come. I arose trembling, put my white, bloodless lips, all greasy with butter and wet with coffee (for in my embarrassment I had dropped my napkin), to those of madam.
“This was my first French kiss.”
The earliest instance of French kiss in the sense of an amorous kiss that I have found is from Rolling Stock, by the American novelist and short-story writer Fannie Hurst (1885-1968), published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) of 11th January 1920:
He buttoned his coat and stooped over her, the smell of damp exuding from his coat.
“Just you lay down in the front room till I get back, Mil. Here, read some of these new fashion books I brought home. I’ll be back early, hon, and maybe wake you up and the kid up with—with a surprise.”
“Just a French kiss, hon.”
She raised a cold face. He tilted her head backward and pressed his lips to hers.
The first known use of French kiss in the sense of a kiss with contact between tongues is from Indelible: A Story of Life, Love, and Music in Five Movements (1922), by the American author Elliot H. Paul (1891-1958):
Ethel Goodman’s mother and father went away the other night and she asked me to come over and see her. I thought I might as well, so long as Hazel was not in town and would not know it. Ethel is not homely, but she is quite thin and not bashful enough to suit me. She sat on the sofa and I sat in a rocking-chair and we had hard work finding something to talk about. I did not ask her to play the piano because she makes a mess of it.
After a while she asked me if I would not be more comfortable on the sofa, so we sat together and held hands, and it started to get dark, but she did not light the lamp. I put my arm around her and she liked it and got as close as she could, although it was hot weather and I perspired quite a little. When it was real dark we began kissing each other. We stayed there quite a while, and I hugged her as best I could, although I remembered afterwards what the book said about not doing it, so you could look your wife in the face.
She showed me the French kiss where you stick your tongue out, but I did n’t like it. Ethel was restless as could be, and all of a sudden she burst out crying. She said nothing was the matter, and as soon as she quieted down, I went home, as it was late.
I do not like to have girls hug me after I am tired of hugging them. I wonder if all girls will let you kiss them. Hazel and Ethel are the only ones I can vouch for.
Most girls and women cry at the drop of the hat.
The French equivalent of French kiss is not baiser français, but baiser avec la langue, literally kiss with the tongue, or, less commonly, baiser profond, literally deep kiss.