Verlan: French slang for sex, drugs, and, of course, complaining


French rappeurs and Verlan diffusers Suprême NTM
French rappeurs and Verlan diffusers Suprême NTM
French rappeurs and Verlan diffusers Suprême NTM

Welcome to Verlan, France’s answer to Cockney rhyming slang or Pig Latin (and an exact parallel to Serbian’s Šatrovački). Verlan became common in the ’80s among poor young folks in Parisian suburbs, and was diffused through hip hop and pop music. Today, anyone of the MTV Europe age or younger employs it to some degree.

The vocabulary of Verlan is formed by a sort of inversion of select French words. (The word Verlan is itself an inversion of l’envers, or backwards.) As Verlan is mainly a spoken (or texted) language, the rules for its formation are imprecise. But generally it’s created something like this:

  1. The word’s sounds are divided up into two halves:  femme  –> fe – me
  2. These two halves then trade places:  fe – me  –>  me – fe
  3. Vowels are then added or dropped to give the word a more natural sound:  me-fe   –>  meuf

On rare occasions, when a Verlan word has become so popular as to lose its slang function (i.e., even the old and uncool understand it), it will undergo a “re-inversion.” For instance, the original inversion of the word arabe (Arab) was beur. Now, it has been re-inverted to become rebue.

The most popular words tend to focus on people, flirting, parties, and illicit drug-use—the themes of youth conversation anywhere—as well as on that staple of French conversation, complaining.

Some examples:

VERLAN

FRENCH

ENGLISH

chelou  

louche  

shady (person)

relou  

lourd

heavy, a drag (person)

vénère

énervé

angry

té-ci

cité

housing projects

teuf

fête

party, rave

teuch

shit

hashish

ouf

fou

crazy

pe-clo

clope

cigarette

keum

mec

guy

être dans la demer

être dans la merde

to be in a shitty situation

pécho

choper

to hit on, to buy hash

zarb or zarbi

bizarre

strange, weird

tarpé

pétard

joint (marijuana)

zibou

bisou

kiss

 

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