The Oxford English Dictionary records: "the custom (in the 18th century prevalent in France and sometimes imitated in England) of going away from a reception, etc. without taking leave of the host or hostess. Hence, jocularly, to take French leave is to go away, or do anything, without permission or notice."
- A sudden or unannounced departure, or one taken without permission. [from 1770s]
1771, Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker:
- He stole away an Irishman's bride, and took a French leave of me and his master.
2010, William Marvel, The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of Lincoln's War, page 10:
- he may have felt a particular need to mitigate the responsibility of those who shirked their duty, for as he wrote that letter he had just returned from French leave himself.