A French kiss is an open-mouthed kiss with tongue and the term dates to the beginning of the 20th century. From a 1918 letter appearing in Private Lindner’s Letters: Censored and Uncensored:
So I have decided to become a linguist. Being able to read French fluently and speak it wretchedly, and to speak German connectively but not to read it at all, I am taking up Luxembourg, which is a wonderful blend of the two, a sort of laison [sic] between tongues. (Not to be confused with French kissing.)1
But why French? The French have been associated with sexual practices dating back to the 18th century. From Henry Fielding’s 1749 Tom Jones:
But I am so far from desiring to exhibit such Pictures to the Public, that I would wish to draw a Curtain over those that have lately been set forth in certain French novels.2
In this case, Fielding was writing about risqué novels that were literally French. By the mid-19th century, the figurative sense was well established. From Robert Browning’s 1842 Bells and Pomegranates:
Or, my scrofulous French novel,
On grey paper with blunt type!3
1Clarence R. Lindner, Private Lindner’s Letters, edited by Gladys Dudley Lindner (San Francisco, 1939), 119.
2Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, In Four Volumes, vol. 3 (Basil: J.L. Legrand, 1791), 306.
3Robert Browning, Bells and Pomegranates, edited by Thomas J. Wise (London: Ward, Lock & Company, 1896), 144.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton