Honi soit qui mal y pense

French Expression

Meaning shame on anyone who thinks this evil
Literally shamed be who thinks evil of it
Register normal
Pronunciation [uh nee swah kee mah lee pa(n)s]
IPA   [ɔ ni swa ki ma li pãs]

Usage notes: In French, honni soit qui mal y pense tends to be used ironically, to hint at hidden bad intentions.

Par exemple…

Charles-Henri ne fait aucun bruit depuis des heures – honni soit qui mal y pense.   Charles-Henri hasn’t made a sound in hours – he must be up to something.
Honi soit qui mal y pense
Arms of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
by Sodacan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

But honi soit qui mal y pense is found much more often in the English-speaking world. First pronounced in the 14th century by King Edward III, it’s the motto of his chivalric Order of the Garter, as well as of

  • Grenadier Guards (infantry regiment of the British Army)
  • Royal Australian Engineers (one of two mottos)
  • Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps
  • Royal Montreal Regiment

Honi soit qui mal y pense is found on many anglophone countries’ military badges, and is also part of the UK’s Royal coat of arms, which means it appears on British passports.

 Spelling note

The historically correct spelling – and therefore what is found on badges, crests, etc. – is honi, which is the Old French conjugation of honnir (to shame, to be contemptuous of). However, the modern spelling is honni, so that is what French speakers will tend to write.

 Incidentally, there is a fascinating book about the back-and-forth relationship between French and English, called Honni soit qui mal y pense, by Henriette Walter.

 Related lessons

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