Le langage jeune

After having been dragged to watch the controversial Spring Breakers accompanied by French subtitles, I have been inspired (yes, inspired is perhaps a strong word) to finally tackle an entry I’ve wanted to write for a while – language used by young French people.  Other than a few phrases that I’d picked up during French exchange during sixth form, my French when I first arrived was blatantly textbook style and wasn’t particularly colloquial.  Though French youth could have challenged me to debates about cloning, the environment, immigration or even genetically modified food, I struggled in the beginning to sound genuine and not like a recording of a listening exercise we’d have used in class back in high school – c’est génial!  Though, slowly but surely, after making French friends and picking up on many a naughty word and everyday phrases, I no longer feel like a walking-talking textbook.  In fact, quite the opposite has happened – I’m always slightly worried about something slipping out that is not at all appropriate when looking after kids or tutoring.  I have also realised the amount of vocab I will have to leave outside the exam room before my final year speaking assessment at Warwick.

So here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve picked up during the year for anyone interested in sounding more with the times when speaking French:

Swearwords/getting pissed off

–          Putain : The magic word, I think most living in France will know what this means.  It seems to work in just about any situation where one is pissed off – just add what you want to ‘putain de qqch’ and you’ll fit right in.

–          Mince : A rather tame swearword, though considering how much the English like to say crap to avoid offense, it’s quite a useful one to know.  

–          Merdique/de merde/pourri/naze : Various ways to say something is shitty.   

–          C’est chiant: Not necessarily a swearword as such in my books, but expresses when something is annoying/crap/shit etc…

–          Ça craint : Again, not vulgar –  translated as ‘it sucks’

–          Ça me fait chier/ça fait chier: That really pisses me off/that’s a pisstake/that’s really annoying.


–          Connard:  A brilliant one to utter to oneself when some crazy Parisian driver nearly runs you over.  I’d liken it to along the lines of saying dick, twat, prick, asshole.  When feeling particularly hot-headed, it can even be shortened to ‘con’.  And the French stick to their complicated grammatical rules even when it comes to insults – ‘une connasse’ can be used for any female idiots you come across…

–          Un enculé: This one far more insulting – fucker or motherfucker.

–          Je t’emmerde : Screw you/fuck you.

–          Une salope: Whilst not promoting demeaning sexist terms in any language, every girl should know if they’re being called a slut or slag.  If you get called ‘une pute’ (whore, tart) you should definitely be whipping out enculé or connard.

–          Tire-toi/dégage-toi : Clear off/ go away.

In general

–          Qqch de ouf: I still remember when first coming across this early on – it was used non-stop by some Sorbonne girls I was in a team with at a uni event.  ‘Un truc de ouf’ is something you’ll hear quite often when spending time with Frenchies, literally meaning ‘something crazy’ or ‘It’s crazy!’  This may not be something we would say in England necessarily, though it’s a coined youth phrase that I struggle to find an accurate equivalent for.  For any language geeks, it is verlan for ‘un truc de fou’.

–          Prems: A fairly new discovery of mine and now comes in very handy – shotgun, bagsy, dibs etc…

–          Kiffer: Basically a cool way to say when you like something or especially someone.

–          Grave: Whilst almost all French students will know ‘c’est pas grave’ (it doesn’t matter/nevermind), though I’ve come across several more usages of this adjective.

  1. First of all, it can be used to describe something rubbish or a bit of a mouthful, or someone who is rather clumsy.
  2. It can also be used as an adverb to express a lot.  ‘Je te kiffe grave’ for example means I like you a lot. Hearing ‘c’est grave long’ in the metro has taken me back to high school days of complaining ‘that’s sooo long!’
  3. I’ve also heard ‘grave’ being said after something that is clearly obvious and doesn’t need pointing out.  So I’m guessing possibly like saying ‘Well nah’ or ‘duh!’

–          C’est (trop) chou: If only I was given even just an euro cent every time I hear this.  It’s another way of saying ‘mignon’ – that’s so cute!  I often find myself described as ‘chou’.          

–          Faire une bêstise/connerie:  Seeing as my blonde moments are still pretty frequent, this is an essential phrase.  I messed/screwed up, my bad.   

–          Un mec/une meuf : standard guy/girl kind of thing.

–          Je ne capte pas: Was slightly puzzled the first time I got this in a text during a night out.  I eventually worked out that it meant I’ve got no signal.

–          Boire un coup : To have a drink

–          Bourré: Whilst there is many a way in every language to say that someone has had one too many, I think I hear ‘bourré’ being used the most often.

–          Les keufs: verlan for the police – ‘flic’ is also used in slang

–          Etre à la bourre: A great one for me as I’m not known for being generally on time… Can be used to say I’m running late, I’m in a hurry/rush.

–          Raconter un mito: To tell a fib

–          Je suis partant: I’m up for it/I’m game

–          Le fric: Dough/dosh/cash  

–          Foirer: to flunk, fuck up

–          Kif-kif : same thing/ same difference

–          Idem : same, ditto

–          Je me casse: ‘Bon, je me casse’ Right, I’m off/I’m getting outta here.

–          J’ai la flemme: vital everyday phrase – I can’t be bothered/ I can’t be asked

–          Bosser : Used a lot to say to work

–          Bof : meh

–          Nickel : great, awesome

So I think that’s long enough a list for now, I’ll save the rest for a possible later post… Bref, j’ai la flemme de continuer la liste, je me casse ! 

La Haine - a great film set in the Parisian banlieue which is full of verlan and argot (slang)
La Haine – a great film set in the Parisian banlieue which is full of verlan and argot (slang)

5 thoughts on “Le langage jeune

  1. Hi . I just came across your collection of posts, quite pleasant . I just want to correct a thing you said here : flic is no verlan for police . It appeared in the XIXth century, nobody knows why or how .
    But there is a verlan associated to flic : it is keuf, which is the verlan for flic, keufli then keuf .

  2. If you feel like going on, the word “meuf” is the verlan for femme : meufa then meuf . Verlan works according to sounds only, and modern mind tends to cut ends off . On the contrary mec is a very old slang ( XIXth ), of completely unsure origin, just like flic .
    Verlan was once ( until the 60s ) only used by gangsters, and words were either complete either even extended with some of these typical French working class endings . There also was a complete outlaws slang, not verlan, another vocabulary with its own dictionary . It was commonly spoken together with verlan until the 60s too . Today some of its words are still used by anybody, without knowing the story . There was another slang, le louchebem, originally spoken by butchers in les Halles . You always start words with “L”, then say the word, then add the original initial consonant plus another typival working class ending . Louchébem means butcher, boucher . Some of this slang has reincarnated in modern world : en douce, slang for secretly, is sometimes said ” en loucedé”, louchebem language ; à poil, slang for in the bare, is sometimes said ” à loilpé” . Kif-Kif is from French colonisation of Maghreb . It’s dialectal Arabic from there . Some words are also still used : fissa for fast, flouze for money, cleb for dog, etc…
    There have been many slangs in French in all times, even in the XVIth . Add the multitude of regional languages ( in 1940 my father was the only kid in his village who could speak French before starting school) and you’ll see the Académie Française has never been the dictature Anglos believe . Its rules are treated by the French as they treat rules …
    Nowadays, a mixture of North African, African, and of course American has been incorporated in youngsters slang . But most of the time, they don’t know where their words come from, just like they don’t know anything of real litteraryFrench . I even heard youngsters saying verlan words in verlan, so saying something close to the original French word ( not exactly because of the small changes in both operations ) . And these illiterate ones didn’t even recognize anything : they don’t even know their verlan words are verlan, they think they are normal or slang words .
    May God’s legions ( or any available E.T tribe ) exterminate those cankers on the face of my once exciting homeland !

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