LE VERLAN

It is one thing to learn a few common expressions to get around once you are in Paris, but school French is not going to get you very far. If you want to master the French language, you need to twist it around like they do, you need to love it but as Lady Gaga says “when it’s love, if it’s not rough it isn’t fun.”

There are many different types of slang in French. Scratch that, a whole lot of types. As with any slang, it often starts with the need to talk in public without being understood by laymen passers-by. Verlan is probably the most used form of slang in France and parts of it have now become common French expressions.

The whole idea behind it is so simple it makes it even more enjoyable: simply take the beginning of the word and put it at the end. “Invert” in French is called “l’envers” which once processed as we explained becomes “vers – l’en” and therefore Verlan.

What might seem in theory completely obvious is in fact really not so easy in everyday life. It takes what French refer to as mental gymnastics, and like any kind of sports it takes practice just to be able to do it on a regular basis.

But how did it start exactly? That’s where it gets tricky. Verlan was designed to answer a need for secrecy, and it is therefore really difficult to properly trace back its roots. Even though we could find usages of metathesis- the rearranging of sounds or syllables in a word- in the 12th century, the first real proof of verlan as secret language dates back to 1842. It is a letter from an infamous French convict named the Hyena written in Verlan and titled “Lontou 1842” where Lontou stands for the French town of Toulon as most of you will have guessed.

But Verlan took off for real during World War II: though some Germans spoke French, even the most fluent ones struggled to understand Verlan. Resistance fighters used it as a means to communicate safely, just like Americans used Navajo Indian. With all due respect [to Enigma], as intricate and sophisticated as it was, Benedict Cumberbatch was able to break it, whereas Verlan was so simple and so effective, French people were actually able to use it throughout the whole war without it ever failing as a secret language.

Of course, some words work better in Verlan than others, and it all comes down to Vernacular usage. Nowadays, without any Germans to confuse anymore, it was at first an underground trend before becoming mainstream.

Don’t get me wrong, nowadays everybody knows a little Verlan and uses it from time to time, but it still takes a lot of effort to be able to fully speak Verlan, and very few people can do so effectively. Now here are common Verlan expressions you might hear or try to use when in Paris:

Let’s begin with the infamous “Zyva”: the most cliché wannabe thug word. Lots of young kids use it whenever they can. It is the invert of “vas-y”, French for “let’s go”. But it has become so overused it is now used more as punctuation than as a proper word.
For example : “Matthieu, zyva, tu vas te faire virer si tu continues comme ça,” which translates in English to: “Matthew, zyva, you are gonna get fired if you keep doing this.”

If you start hearing it too much, you might have ended up in the wrong neighbourhood of Paris, but the fact that you just got mugged should have been the first warning. Most of you will end up only having FUN in the City of Lights, so let’s speak about “golri”; in French ‘to laugh’ is spelled “rigoler.”

 

Our inside guide to the most used as well as the coolest phrases in le Verlan that you’ll often hear being used by locals in Paris.

LE VERLAN

C’est la “Demer”!

C’est un truc de “Ouf”!

C’est ma “Meuf”

C’est bon t’es “Relou”

Les Keuf

J’vais la Pécho

A Donf

Cimer

Une grosse teuf

Un Rebeu

C’est trop chanmé

La Zik

Laisse béton

J’suis Foncedé

Une Caillera

C’est chelou

C’est Zarbi

A tarplus

Le Zinc

Je suis Seultout

La Teci

Mon poto

La Darone/ Le Daron

La Mifa

FRANCAIS

C’est la merde!

C’est un truc de fou!

C’est ma femme, ma copine

C’est bon t’es lourd/chiant

Les flics

Chopper

A fond

Merci

Une grande fete

Un Arabe

C’est trop bien

La musique

Laisse tomber

Je suis défoncé

Une racaille

C’est louche

C’est bizzard

A plustard

Le cousin

Je suis tout seul

La cite

Mon pote

La Maman/ Le Papa

La famille

ENGLISH

It’s shit!

It’s a crazy thing!

It’s my girl

You’re annoying

Cops

Make out

Super loud (context)

Thanks

A big party

An Arab

It’s so cool!

The music

Let it go

I’m high

A thug

It’s weird

It’s bizzard

Laters

My cousin

I’m all alone

The projects

My friend

The mother/ The father

The family

 

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