Take French Leave

Meaning of Idiom ‘Take French Leave’

To take French leave is to leave without getting permission or without informing anyone; to leave a gathering without saying goodbye to the host; to quit a job without giving notice.


This expression is better left unused, as it may be seen as a slur toward the French. However, it is used for a variety of situations. Going AWOL from the military, or taking any kind of unauthorized leave from the military or a job could be referred to as taking French leave. As well, leaving a restaurant or a hotel without paying your bill is taking French leave.


There are two origins claimed for this idiom which has been used since the first half of the 1800s.

A common claim is that the idiom originated when English soldiers thought that French soldiers were cowardly and had a tendency to leave the battlefield without orders, thus taking an unauthorized “leave” from the battle which came to be known as taking French leave. Lending some support to this origin is the fact that the French have their own version, filer à l’anglaise, which basically means to run or sneak away like an Englishman.

However, another possible origin is more benign and based on an English observation that French people tended to leave gatherings or functions without saying goodbye to their hosts.

In the past, the idiom had a broader range of meaning and could even mean running away from something such as an enemy.

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