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French Slang Verlan

Navigating French Slang – Verlan

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Trop relou, j’ai pas pu aller à la teuf hier!

Didn’t get that? Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for.

By the way, in French slang the sentence means, “That s*cks, I didn’t make it to the party yesterday!,” but with a French linguistic delicacy thrown in called Verlan.

What is French Verlan Slang? French Pig Latin

Verlan is a type of French slang allowing you to cut, paste and play around with syllables to create French slang words and phrases. A bit like Pig Latin, if you like, only way cooler – and much more widespread in France than it is in the US or the UK.

The trick is to cut the word into syllables, reverse them and then glue them back together. Sounds pretty basic, right? It isn’t. To ‘polish’ your verlanized word, you’ll need to drop or add letters so that it’s easier to pronounce.

Verlan 101

Let’s start with Verlan 101. In the first sentence, the only two words you probably didn’t get are relou and teuf. Relou actually comes from the French lourd, which basically means “annoying” or “irritating.” (It can also mean “heavy” based on the context.) If we cut the word in half, we get lou-rd. Now let’s throw away that silent D at the end (why is it needed anyway?) and we get lou-r. Turn them around and you’ll get r-lou. Throw in an E in between to make it easier to pronounce, and – ta-daaa – you get relou.

The same linguistic surgery applies to teuf, which comes from the word “fête” (party). When pronounced like a true mustache-wearing, croissant-loving Parisian, fête actually sounds more like fêteu. Once again, chop it up (fe-teu), reverse it (teu-fe) and drop that useless final E and you’re ready to party!

When Did Verlan Start?

Although some people claim that verlan dates back as far as the seventeenth century, it became increasingly popular in the 90’s in low-income French banlieues (suburbs of a large city) thanks to rap groups like IAM and NTM. Regardless of its origin, it has always been used as a way of not being understood by any type of authority figure, be it the cops, the government or… your mom.  It’s a way for social outcasts to distance themselves from the rest of society through language. The word verlan itself is actually a verlanized version of à l’envers, meaning “back to front.”

Verlan has now conquered other French-speaking areas like Belgium and Québec through movies and music. It is still, however, mostly spoken by young people in informal contexts – do not try this during a job interview to impress your potential boss with your ninja skills in French!

Let’s Try Some Verlan Examples

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Here are 5 verlan words to help you navigate the French slang underground culture like a pro:

  1. Ouf (Fou) – crazy

This is one of the easiest. Just like we did in the previous examples, simply break the word into two parts (f-ou), invert the syllables (ou-f) and that’s it. You’ll hear this word used especially in the phrase – Un truc de ouf (something crazy, unbelievable).

  1. Meuf (Femme) / Keum (Mec) – woman / man

To get meuf, you first need to accentuate the silent E in femme to get fem-meu. Invert the two syllables (meu-fem), drop the final “em,” and you get meuf.

The same goes for keum. First, accentuate the end (pronounced me-keu), switch the word’s tail and head (keu-me) and, why not do away with that final E, to get keum?

meuf and keum can also mean girlfriend and boyfriend, as in the sentence – Tu viens avec ta meuf / ton keum ? (Is your girlfriend/boyfriend coming along?)

  1. Céfran (Français) – French

Here, as we did earlier, you first need to pronounce the word like a true Frenchie –  fran-cé. Flip it up then glue the whole thing back together and you get – céfran, as in, Tu parles céfran ? C’est ouf ! (So you speak French? That’s crazy!)

  1. Keuf (Flic) – cop

This one’s tricky.  To understand how they got to keuf, you first need to know the French slang word flic, which means “cop.” If we accentuate the final sound and transcribe the pronunciation, we get fli-keu. Reverse it and you get keu-fli. Now, let’s drop the “li” and the result is keuf, as in, Attention, les keufs arrivent! (Careful, the cops are coming!)

  1. Skeud (Disque) – record or album.

For music lovers only. If you transcribe disque phonetically, you get di-skeu. Flip the two syllables to get skeu-di; then get rid of the final “i” and you’re all set to put your skeud on a turntable. As in – Il me faut ce skeud! (I need this record so bad!)

Are there rules to “verlanizing?”

Remember that there’s not a single governing rule when it comes to ‘verlanizing’ words in French. They’re usually the result of a creative linguistic process that is sometimes tricky to explain. Also, note that not all words should be verlanized; only a handful made it to the club (see extended list below). In an attempt to look “fresh” and closer to the youth, the SNCF (the French rail network) infamously “verlanized”’ the word possible as ssiplebo in one of their ads. Unfortunately for them, nobody says that.

Bonus: if you want to complete your verlan dictionary to sound even more French, here are more verlan words to expand your French slang vocabulary.

À donf (à fond)                         fully/ to the maximum

chanmé (méchant)                   cool, badass

chébran (branché)                    cool, trendy

chelou (louche)                         shady, dubious

Cimer (merci)                            thank you

le tromé (métro)                        the subway

les rempas (parents)                 parents

reum / reup (mère / père)         mother / father

reuf / reus   (frère / sœur)         brother / sister

se faire pécho (chopper)          get caught

Teubé (bête)                              stupid

une peclo (cloppe)                   a smoke (cigarette)

Véner (énervé )                        irritated/annoyed

zarbi (bizarre)                          weird

 

Inspired to Learn French?

If our Verlan primer has inspired you to brush up on your French skills, check out our Pimsleur French courses.  Use the code “BLOG” at checkout for a special blog readers discount.

Did you know we’ve just released an updated edition of our popular French 1 course? Read about how we’re adapting our courses to keep pace with changes in the French language in this blog post: Pimsleur French 1 Update – Not Your Mother’s French.

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