What is the etymology of the term Frenchified? In The Gangs of New York (2002) Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting says

Careful, Tweedy. The Mort's Frenchified

to William 'Boss' Tweed who has just decided to stay in his company on the account of some floozies. By looking it up or even merely from the context I can tell that he is referring to the great certainty of the temptress being affected by a form of venereal disease.

This being said, I was not able to find why syphilis and the likes would be attributed to the French or be French in origin.

5 Answers 5


From the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

FRENCHIFIED. Infected with the venereal disease.
The mort is Frenchified: the wench is infected.

And just a few lines above...

FRENCH DISEASE. The venereal disease, said to have been imported from France. French gout; the same. He suffered by a blow over the snout with a French faggot−stick; i.e. he lost his nose by the pox.

I'd like to seize the opportunity to clarify the circumstances of the phrase French Disease.

The story of the French disease as far as I know it, is as follows (also confirmed in the Wikipedia article about syphilis).

  1. From a previous life in Naples I remember being struck by the fact that syphilis which I knew was known in Medieval France as mal de Naples was symmetrically known in Naples as mal francese.

  2. Around the same time I was reading the book "Love stories of French History" of which I can't resist citing (translating) the tastier (albeit heavily romanticised) relevant excerpts...

We are in April 1495 in Naples; America has been discovered 3 years ago and the French king Charles VIII has just sent the incumbent Spanish king of Naples Alfonso II away for a while. Charles gives splendid banquets to celebrate his new possession... (op. cit. p. 268).

One fine day, a knight started to feel a funny tingle. On the following day the itching turned into aches and his body was soon covered with poxes.
Understandably anxious he called for the doctor who actually could not come to help, for at the same time nearly all the king's guests were subject to the same mysterious illness.
The poor souls were paying a heavy price for a short lapse of entertainment; they were covered with blisters; some were loosing their lips or their eyes and those were the luckiest, for they were spared the painful sight of witnessing their "virility" dropping on the floor like a ripe fruit...
In actuality they had been contaminated by syphilis contracted by Christopher Columbus sailors and imported in Italy by the Spanish mercenaries serving the ousted Spanish King.
The disease spread like wildfire and even high ranking personalities were affected. Bishops and Cardinals lost their nose and even the Pope was not spared. Charitable doctors then eruditely revealed that the ailment could propagate in the air through breath and even in holy water, so that the honour of the holy men was safe.

As the king's army pathetically limped back northwards to France, wary Italians on the way kept aloof lest they would be contaminated by what thence came to be known as the mal francese - the French disease.

  • 1
    'Syphilis' is just like the salad dressing of ketchup mixed with mayonnaise. In the US, it is known as French dressing, and in France it is known as la sauce américaine.
    – Mitch
    Feb 7, 2017 at 16:36

According to etymonline:

1590s, from French + -ify. Usually contemptuous (e.g. Richardson in his introduction to "Pamela," beseeching the editor not to "Frenchify our English solidity into froth and whip-syllabub"). Related: Frenchified; Frenchifying.

For the definition, there are two popular choices when the term is used as an adjective:

(vulgar, slang) To have contracted a venereal disease. To have become more like the French.

As a transitive verb:

To make (something) more French in appearance or character.

An example of that would be if a baseball team played with berets on their head instead of baseball caps.

In the Gangs of New York, it was certainly intended to be as unflattering and insulting as possible.


As a wild guess, it might have something to do with the "french letter".


'Frenchified' is an English term dating back to at least the 16th century meaning over fancy or over sophisticated, it's slightly contemptuous

It's based on the French nation's status as official enemy of England 1066 - 1914


The mort is frenchified might be just switching the words cuz hes talking about the girl with a french accent. The Frenchie is mortified. Mortified meaning she has syphilis cuz back then it was like a death sentence. Mort means death by the way. But the reason the French are associated with syphilis is cuz they were known to spread it to native Americans in huge numbers when they came here as trappers.

  • 3
    This answer comes across as highly speculative because it doesn't provide any supporting documentation for its assertions. Please consider adding quotations from and links to third-party reference works that corroborate your claims.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 29, 2016 at 7:16

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