The Grammarphobia Blog

On “frogs” and “frog-eaters”

Q: What’s the origin of the epithet “frogs” in reference to the French people?

A: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “frogs” has been used as a term of abuse for men and women since the 14th century. During the 17th century, it was used to refer to the Jesuits and the Dutch.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable traces the use of the word “frogs” for the French to both the eating of frogs’ legs and the fleur-de-lis, the French heraldic device, which was sometimes described as three frogs or toads saluting. In the 16th century, Nostradamus, alluding to the fleur-de-lis, used the word “toads” for Frenchmen, according to Brewer’s. In the late 18th century, the dictionary says, the French court routinely called the people of Paris grenouilles, or frogs.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, “frogs” and “frog-eaters” began showing up in English as derogatory terms for the French people.