Like “traditional” French slang, verlan can help you sound like a local, or seal your fate as an imposter trying way too hard to win the approval of some cool new French kids.
Here’s a quick primer to get your verlan game on track, without looking backwards:
What exactly is verlan?
It’s a form of French slang where syllables or short sounds of words are inverted. The term verlan is a good example, as it is the back-to-front transcription of the French term à l’envers (“backwards”).
It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of this cryptic language. It is believed to go back to as early as the Middle Ages, and was very popular during WW2 as a way to throw off Germans listening to French communication.
Over time, verlan made its way into popular culture and took off in the 90s through hip-hop and rap music. Today, many verlan slang words are understood by just about all French people (although sometimes rejected by older generations).
Gymglish has carelessly hand-picked 10 French verlan words that you should learn illico, meuf / keum.
This polite French term is both a staple in any conversation and one of the most verlanized words out there. Cimer is the verlan version of the French merci. It’s used both in its literal sense as well as in a passive-aggressive context, so watch out who you say it to.
Example: “Tu peux me passer le pain s’il te plaît? Cimer.”
Translation: “Can you pass the bread, please? Cheers.”
Venere or Vener
Jump onto any Parisian tromé at peak hours and you’re destined to become venere instantaneously. The adjective venere (sometimes written vener) is a twist of the French adjective énervé which means “angry” or “pissed off”. This term is widely used in everyday conversations, especially among teenagers and young adults.
💡 Pro tip: don’t confuse vénère with the French verb vénérer, which means “to worship”.
Example 1: “Je crois que j’ai oublié mes clés, je suis trop vénère !”
Translation: “I think I forgot my keys, I’m so pissed!”
Example 2 : “Mon frère a fait du bruit toute la journée avec sa batterie, il m’a vénère.”
Translation: “My brother made noise with his drums all day, he really got on my nerves.”
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Relou can be a puzzling term for non-native French speakers and it’s a bit heavy to consider how weird it is. It originates from the French adjective lourd which means “heavy” literally. In a figurative sense, it has nothing to do with the weight of an object or person. The term is used to describe someone who is “a drag” or “laborious”, or a “chore””. It can also refer to a particularly annoying or irritating situation, much like English speakers would use “that sucks”.
Example: “Il va pleuvoir toute la semaine, c’est relou !”
Translation: “It’s going to rain all week, that sucks!”
This one will make you mad. Originally, ouf was used among younger generations but now knows no limitations. Ouf is the verlan version of the French adjective fou (“mad” or “crazy”). It is usually used to describe an incredible experience, story, place or person. The term is generally used positively, but not always, just like describing something as “crazy” can have a negative connotation in English.
💡Pro tip: you’ll often hear the French shout c’est un truc de ouf ! (“this is crazy!”), or de ouf (“totally”) in answer to something completely wild you just said.
Example 1: “Ce film est ouf, j’ai adoré le jeu d’acteur !”
Translation: “This movie is amazing, I loved the acting!
Example 2: “Je n’en peux plus de te répéter vingt fois la même chose, c’est ouf que tu ne comprennes pas !”
Translation: “I can’t stand repeating the same thing to you for the hundredth time, it’s crazy that you still don’t understand!”
If you notice something strange in your neighborhood, before calling the ghostbusters, you are legally obliged to use the French adjective chelou. This verlan term stems from the French adjective louche and refers to a person or a situation that appears to be “weird,” “creepy” or “sketchy”.
💡Did you know? This term became so popular that it gave its name to the song C’est chelou by French singer Zaho.
Example: “Cet homme est chelou, il me fixe depuis tout à l’heure.”
Translation: “That man is sketchy, he’s been staring at me for a while.”
This next French verlan word is either wicked or awesome, or some combination thereof.
The adjective chanmé comes from méchant which translates as “mean”, “cruel” or “wicked” in English. Although it is a jumbled-up version of this word (in which the syllables mé-chant are inverted to form chan-mé), it is a popular term used to describe a situation or place which is “amazing” or “awesome” or colloquially “wicked” “sick”, “tight”, etc.
Example: “Je suis allée au concert de Pink la semaine dernière, c’était chanmé !”
Translation: “I went to Pink’s concert last week, it was awesome!”
The verlan term pécho comes from the French verb choper (“to catch”, “to take” or “to grab”), an informal but common alternative to the verbs prendre or attraper. French speakers will use this verlan term to refer to the act of “kissing”, “dating”, or “hooking up with someone”.
While the verb choper is used when talking about “taking something”, the term pécho is commonly used to refer to romantic success.
Example: “Maxime a pécho Alix après l’avoir draguée toute la soirée.”
Translation: “Maxime hooked up with Alix after flirting with her all night.”
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If you or any of your friends are up to no good, don’t forget that the keufs are just around the corner and it’s possible that all keufs are bâtards. The French term keuf is verlan for flic (a cop) version of the term flic (French slang word to refer to a police officer).
💡Did you know? A variant of Keuf is kefli, a truer inversion of “flic”.
Exemple: “Dépêche-toi de sortir, les keufs arrivent !”
Translation: “Hurry up and get out of there, the cops are coming!”
Portninwak is the verlan version of the interjection n’importe quoi which means “nonsense!” or “whatever”. Over the years, it has shortened into nawak, and is used to refer to something that is false, absurd, or simply doesn’t make sense. In English, we would use the interjection “bullsh*t!”.
Example 1: “Elle t’a vraiment raconté que j’avais dansé sur la table hier soir ? C’est nawak !”
Translation: “Did she really tell you that I danced on the table last night? That’s bulls*it”
Example 2: “Les dialogues de ce film, c’était vraiment nawak ! Je n’ai rien compris!”
Translation: “The dialogues in that movie were rubbish! I didn’t understand a thing!”
This last word is cause for celebration. Though it has a 90s connotation, teuf is the verlan version of fête (“party”). It gave birth to the verb teuffer (to party) and teuffeur which describes a person fond of parties. Chanmné, don’t you think?
💡Pro tip: among younger generations, the verlan term résoi (from the term soirée which means “party” or “bash”) is also popular.
Example: “J’ai fait la teuf tout le week-end, je suis super fatigué.”
Translation: “I’ve been partying all weekend, I’m exhausted.”
Want to discover more verlan words? Try our online French courses Frantastique for free for 7 days.
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