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Get your verlan on! The basics of this French slang

THE BASICS OF VERLAN

Verlan is arguably the most popular form of French slang - it’s used all the time in conversation amongst young people, and even some adults. It’s not taught in schools; you can only really pick it up through casual conversation. Read our article to learn more about verlan, as well as how to incorporate it into your own French to give it an edge!

THE INVERSE OF ‘INVERSE’

Verlan is a type of argot, or slang, that relies on the inversion of syllables in a word to create a new word. In fact, the word Verlan is itself verlan – it is the inverse of the word l’envers, which translates to inverse. It originated as a way for the youth population to speak cryptically and resist social control, but its usage gradually became very widespread. It’s kind of like the French version of Pig Latin, but much more common; some verlan words have become so integrated into the French language that they can actually be found in the dictionary! However, you wouldn’t put an entire sentence into verlan form – rather, you would only use a few key verlan words. Read the next section to find out some of the most popular verlan terms.

VERLAN YOU NEED TO KNOW

To sound super French, check out these must-know verlan terms:

  1. Teuf = party

Teuf is the verlan form of ‘fete’, which means ‘party.’ You can see here that the spelling doesn’t remain the same in verlan – rather, the spelling reflects the pronunciation of the new word.

  1. Meuf = woman, girl

This word is so commonly used that you can find it in many dictionaries. It is the inverse of the word ‘femme’, which means ‘woman.’ You can use meuf to mean girl, woman, girlfriend… However, ‘ma femme’ means ‘my wife’, while ma meuf generally means ‘my girlfriend.’ Meuf is a pretty useful term that is used in many different social contexts – although always casual, not professional.

  1. Relou = annoying, irritating

Relou comes from the word ‘lourd’, whose main meaning is ‘heavy.’ However, relou did not retain this meaning, and instead is used to indicate something bothersome.

  1. Vénère = angry, annoyed

Vénère is another verlan word that is so frequently used that it has an official spot in the dictionary! It’s the inverted form of the word ‘énervé’, which has the same meaning, but ‘venere’ is much more colloquial and is used casually.

  1. Chelou = sketchy, shady

This word is derived from the word ‘louche’, which also refers to something that is seedy or sketchy. Chelou, however, is a bit stronger of a word, and is used to refer to something or someone that is extremely strange and/or suspicious.

  1. Ouf = crazy

Ouf is verlan for ‘fou’, and the two both mean ‘crazy’ – however, while ‘fou’ can refer to clinical mental illness, ouf connotes something or someone that is absurd or ridiculous.

  1. Chanmé = excellent, wicked

This is an example of a verlan word that has really evolved from its original form! It comes from the word ‘méchant’, which signifies ‘mean’ or ‘unkind.’ However, chanmé is exclusively used in a positive sense, and refers to something that is awesome – in American (or kanri, the verlan form of ‘américain’) slang, it translates to “dope”!

REVERLANISATION

Some verlan words have become so commonplace that they are reverlanises, meaning that they are AGAIN put in verlan form! For example, the word beur, which is verlan for ‘arabe’ (Arab) has been re-verlaned into the word rebeu. The word meuf, which you learned about above, has also been subject to reverlanisation, by becoming femeu. These words are not as common as verlan, and the practice of reverlanisation (also called double verlan, or veul) is generally limited to young people.

VERLAN IN POPULAR CULTURE

Verlan isn’t just limited to casual conversation – it can even be found in pop culture. For example, the well-known 1977 ballad by singer Renaud, Laisse Béton, is verlan for ‘laisse tomber’ (just forget it). More recently, the Belgian musician Stromae, got his stage-name from the verlan form of ‘maestro.’

Make sure to use some of these verlan words next time you’re having a conversation in French with a friend or your host mifa (family)!