Verlan: A Cryptic, Popular French Slang You Must Secretly Learn
Did you ever speak Pig Latin when you were young?
You know, that secret code language where you move the first consonant to the end of the word and add “ay”?
Like this: French → renchfay, today → odaytay, cup → upcay.
As children we learn to speak in codes like Pig Latin because we want to tell secrets out loud.
As French learners, you can learn French’s verlan—which is kind of like your childhood spoken codes but at a higher level—to understand and talk like natives.
With the work you’ve been putting into simply learning original French language and grammar, to even think of picking up any form of French slang or argot can seem millions of light years away.
Of course it’s cool to understand the way natives secretly express themselves. Slang is when speakers feel at ease, comfortable and colloquial. We all do it, even in our own English language, so wouldn’t you love to learn how, in French?
Well, you can! And it’s way easier than formal argot.
French Slang 101
There are three types of commonly practiced slang in French: louchébem, argot and verlan aka verlan à l’envers.
Louchebém was created and used mostly before the 1950s by butchers and meat packers, but is still sparingly spoken today among people of that class. If you’re not a boucher (butcher) in France, you probably won’t be using this verbatim anytime soon!
This is how it works: The first consonant of a French word is moved to the end and replaced with the letter “L,” making it easier than regular argot. What makes it a little confusing is that suffixes such as –ème, –ji, –oc and –muche are added at the end of the word. Choosing which last suffix to use depends on phonetics. Let’s not forget that French is a language that’s all about sound!
Here’s an example of how boucher becomes louchébem.
B gets moved to the back, and R gets dropped: ouchéb-
L is added to the front of the word: louchéb-
-éme suffix is added, but the last E is dropped: louchébem
Confusing, I know, so let’s not worry about this type of slang. Just a fun fact!
Argot on the other hand, can take loads of time to learn and is best picked up by living in real-time French culture. Argot vocabulary words are passed down by parents and grandparents through upbringing. They are just completely different words that substitute the same words you’ve already been learning, such as the word bagnole, which is argot for voiture (car).
To learn them would be like starting an entire new French lesson, but if you want to challenge yourself and try it out, a great way to do this is to incorporate one word a day into your learning and try to use it whenever possible. A list of argot words can be found all over the internet!
3. Verlan à l’envers
Verlan à l’envers, last but not least, can be your life saver! It’s a cooler, cryptic slang that’s actively practiced and accepted by the younger French population. Not only that, but it’s much easier and faster to learn than argot. Yes, key word: faster! So if you’re already a master of original French vocabulary and grammar, then verlan sera du gâteau ! (will be a piece of cake).
To continue expanding your knowledge of informal and spoken forms of French, you may want to consider getting the e-book from IE Languages on the subject. It’s worth learning how natives actually express themselves, after all! The book comes with plenty of audio, so you can learn to recognize slang and informal speech when you hear it in conversation.
Now, back to verlan.
What Is Verlan?
It all began when French people chose to speak in code in an effort to hide information from social control and police forces.
The information exchanged usually related to illegal instances, but now the style of speaking in verlan has stuck and found its way into the younger French generation—and even music, like French hip hop and rap. Although it still bears a sort of negative connotation by the older generation due to its roots, it’s commonly used by many young French who are familiar with it. Trust me, they all are. You’ll also be surprised to know that verlan has even made it into French dictionaries for its popular use!
Verlan, which is actually the French word à l’envers backwards or “reversed” (that’s what it translates to), is a form of Pig Latin that French speakers use in everyday talk; way, way more than an English speaker would ever use Pig Latin in their entire life.
It’s considered a language game that involves breaking up original French words at their syllables and consonants and reversing them. There are rules to follow though, like every language; and like all language rules, some can be overruled.
When it comes to verlan, there are a couple of rules you need to remember.
What are those rules, you ask?
Knowing your syllables, consonants, keeping an attentive ear to sound and knowing your basic French vocabulary, of course.
Once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easy as pie, so here are 10 French words verlanisés to help get you started in the world of verlan à l’envers:
10 French Verlan Slang Words You Must Learn
1. Céfran (Français – French)
Céfran is categorized under the novice level of verlan. Cé–fran, as you can see, is the reversal of the syllables in français. By breaking up the word français at its syllables, fran-çais, you get cé–fran, céfran.
C’est un céfran ? (Is he French?)
2. Tromé (Métro – Metro)
Similiar to céfran, tromé is on the beginner’s side. It’s a two syllable word, tro–mé, which is the verlan of mé–tro.
Tromé is used almost all the time. You’ll hear it on the metro (duh), at parties or with friends who are familiar speaking to each other like this.
Vous êtes arrivés ici en tromé ? (Did you come here by metro?).
3. Cimer (Merci – Thank You)
Another one of those easy, peasy, lemon squeezy verlanisé words!
Mer–ci becomes ci–mer. Merci is also only made up of two syllables, and because no accent is needed, it could perhaps be the utmost effortless word of verlan. I’m not going to translate this one into English for you because, well, you should know what merci means!
You’ll hear cimer fluidly used by numerous young français. I’d consider it the most used verlan word of all.
T’es génial, cimer ! (You’re awesome, thank you!).
4. Ouf (Fou – Crazy)
Vous êtes fou! If you never heard of this one before, fou is the regular word in French for “crazy.”
This one might look tricky because it’s a short word with two vowels next to each other. I’m sure you’ve conceived that the breaking up of syllables involves splitting a word up at its vowels, but in the case of three-letter verlan words, there’s an exception.
Here’s how it looks: f–0u becomes ou–f. In this case you break up the vowels together and take the ending pair of letters and move them to the beginning of the word. fou – ouf.
The reason for this exception is due to the major element of sound. Ouf sounds more like fou backwards [foo – oof] than (uof) would.
Like cimer, ouf is also really, really common. A funny popular everyday expression using the verlanisé of fou aka ouf is:
Truc de ouf. (That’s crazy or it’s crazy).
C’était un truc de ouf ! (It was crazy!).
Truc translates to “thing” in French, and it stands for literally any, old thing. Anything can be a truc. Try to remember this expression for next time and you’ll blow all your classmates, comrades and colleagues away!
5. Oim (Moi – Me)
Like to ouf, moi or oim is broken up the same way, via rule exception.
Again, the “M” or letter without a vowel stands alone in the break-up reversal. M–oi becomes oi–m. The reason is for priority of sound. Oim sounds more like moi backwards than iom would.
Viens chez oim ! (Come to my place!).
6. Meuf (Femme – Woman)
The envers (reverse) of femme, which I hope you know translates to “woman” is meuf.
Meuf is considered a more advanced word to verlaniser compared to the prior ones on this list.
Directly looking at it, you may be confused as to how femme becomes meuf, but here’s how the verlanisé of it looks:
Femme → fe–mme→ mme–fe → mmefe → meuf
I know that even after this step-by-step explanation you still might not understand why femme becomes meuf, but as I mentioned before, sound is a number one rule!
When you try to say femme backwards by using the literal reversal (mmefe), it does not go whatsoever! The addition of the “U” and dropping the final “E” make meuf ring more like femme backwards.
Always remember that this is a language game, and that rules can be a little topsy turvy. That goes for any language in general. It’s just something that you’re “supposed” to know or memorize!
7. Reuf (Frère – Brother)
These next three verlan words on the list are going to apply the same rule as the one found in femme.
Frère, which is the word for “brother” in French, as you see, gets verlanisé into reuf.
There goes that “U” again! That’s another common change you’ll see with these next three words on the verlan list. Incorporating the “U” into these words and dropping the last “E’s” give the word a better sound in its envers (reversed) version.
In the case of frère aka reuf, the second “R” is also dropped:
Frère → frè–re → re–frè → refre → reufre → reuf
Once you hear and say these words to yourself out loud you’ll see what I mean about the difference between the sound in reuf and refre. The extra “R” at the end of re-fre takes away from the original sound of frère, that is why it becomes reuf.
As I mentioned before, verlan is famously used within French hip hop and rap. Here’s the word frère (along with some others we’ve learned) used in action by a famous French rapper, Rohff. The title of the song is called “Classique.”
“Une keuf meuf, ou se faire poucave par son propre reuf.” (A female cop, who got snitched out by her own brother).
Yes I know, doesn’t nicely flow as much in English! But if you noticed, meuf, one of the words we learned, is also thrown into the sentence, along with another that isn’t on the list: keuf. Keuf is verlan for “cop” or “police,” the envers of flic (which is argot for police).
Other famous French rappers who tend to use verlan in their lyrics are Booba, La Fouine and Sniper.
8. Reum (Mère – Mother)
Mère (mother) in verlan is reum. Like the previous two words on the list, the same rules apply. Here’s how this one looks:
Mère → mè–re → re–me → reume → reum
I know these verlanisé words look a little more German than French. It’s crazy! But bear with me please!
Let’s just say that if you’re living in France at a homestay with foreign French parents, calling your house mom reum probably won’t slide. They might not even know what it means, especially if they’re part of the older generation. Some house parents are on the younger side though. If they are, try to casually throw it in there, they might think it’s cute.
9. Teuf (Fête – Party)
Now we get to the cool stuff. Teuf, which is the envers of fête (party) is regularly used by the younger, hip generation.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but this is the last, I promise: The same aforementioned rule applies! Okay I said it, there.
Fête → te–ef → tefe → teufe → teuf
So when to use teuf? Whenever your heart desires. Because similar to ouf and cimer, teuf is an extremely favored verlan word.
So if you’re speaking in front of your French homestay mom and you’re sneakingly planning to go to a secret French underground rave, then teuf would be the wiser word to use.
Tu veux venir à la teuf ce soir ? (You wanna come to the party tonight?).
10. Vénère (Énervé – Angry)
So I saved the best for last, because this French word might describe to how you feel right now, a little vénère aka énervé?
Vénère is the verlan of énervé, which is French for “angry” or “mad.” If you don’t feel either of these, would you say a tad bit frustrated? I did too, the first time I heard of such a thing as verlan! But don’t worry, after the first learning hill, it’s a trip!
Here’s one last switch-up:
énervé → én–ner–vé → vé–ne–ré → vénère
That was nice and easy.
Note: Be careful not to confuse vénère with the verb vénérer, which means to “venerate” or “worship” in French.
For the most part, this list here of verlan vocabulary words are a just few of the prominently used. While all French words can technically be verlanisé, some are more commonly used than others.
It’s kind of hectic to literally verlaniser every French word in a sentence (though there are people who do it). Others try to even verlaniser a word that’s already been verlanisé (this is known as veul), which is the double verlan of the word verlan, making it even more cryptic—but let’s not carried away.
Normally, there are only certain words within a sentence that are verlanisés. If you’re having trouble figuring out which words to “hide” during normal French speech, think about the word within the sentence that you want to be kept secret, that’s usually your best bet.
Now that I’ve let you in on a little secret, chime in and try to detect verlan among young, cool, hip French speakers. You’ll be surprised at how much you actually hear!