What Does French Leave Mean?

French Leave Meaning

Definition: French leave means an unauthorized departure.

Origin of French Leave

This idiom originated around the 1760s. It implies that a person left his or her responsibilities without any notice or permission, often in secret. It is common to hear this in the context of someone abandoning his or her military duties.

This expression allegedly comes from the practice of French people leaving a party without saying goodbye to the host.

According to OED, it was first recorded shortly after the Seven Years’ War.

Ironically, the French have the same expression. However, in their version they say leaving in the style of the English.

Historically, there have been periods of time with tension between the French and English. It is possible that this idiom originated as a means of referring to another nation in a derogatory way.

Examples of French Leave

what is the meaning of French leaveIn this conversation, a mother and daughter are discussing how the daughter is shirking her chores around the house.

Daughter: Hi, Mom.

Mother: Don’t act like you did nothing wrong! I saw your room.

Daughter: What do you mean?

Mother: I told you that you couldn’t go out with your friends until you cleaned up your room and finished all your other house chores. You decided to go out anyway.

Daughter: Oh. Sorry, I forgot.

Mother: I don’t believe that you forgot! I think that you decided to take a French leave. You hoped I wouldn’t even notice!

Daughter: I’m sorry I left without doing my chores. I’ll do them right now. It won’t happen again. I promise.

what is French leave

In this example, two coworkers are discussing the strict rules at their workplace.

Dave: I told my boss that my daughter is sick and that I have to go pick her up from school. He won’t let me leave! He says that today’s meeting is too important and that my wife should take care of her.

Ben: Doesn’t he know that you are a single dad?

Dave: I’m not sure. I’ll ask him one more time for permission, and if he denies it, I guess I’ll take a French leave.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a couple that took a short vacation to look for a house in France.

  • During a spot of French leave, our columnist and Richard are searching for a dream château. Will they find a mansion or a ruin? –Express

This excerpt is the heading of an article about a chef and his favorite meal.

  • French leave: Pierre Koffmann’s final meal –The Guardian


The phrase French leave is another way to say to leave without permission.