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Verlan: The Backward French Slang

Verlan: The Backward French Slang

Verlan what? Languages like French or English are a kind of “living entities” and people still modify them for centuries and it won’t stop. English speakers, as in other languages tend to make words shorter, it is called Apheresis. There are many examples like the word ”because” that sometimes is just pronounced “cause”.

Those phonetics modifications make it harder for a language learner to master perfectly an idiom. There is a phonetic modification that does not exist in English and to my knowledge only exists in French. This slang is called “Verlan”.

First question…

1 –  Where comes from the word Verlan?

The explanation of this word will explain what is for a French to speak in verlan. This French slang is the backward pronunciation of the French word “À l’envers” translated into English gives “upside-down” or “reverse”. We erase “À” and switch the word “verl’en” and we modify the writing to end up with the word “Verlan”.

2 –  When do French people are using it?

It is considering a family of French slang. This means that words in verlan are colloquial and cannot be used for an interview, I would not recommend using them during a formal meeting. French people are using verlan in the everyday life.

From my experience, I noticed that Parisian people tend to use it even more than other French. Also, reverse slang is used by mostly most generations and not only by the young from the suburbs as you might imagine. 

3 – Which verlan are the most popular in France?

I will mention some of them since it is quite popular in the French language.

For example: 

  • Femme (woman) is Meuf.
  • Mec (dude) is Keum.
  • Soirée (evening) is Résoi.
  • Énervé (angry) is Vénère
  • Merci (Thanks) is Cimer 
  • Méchant (Mean) is Chanmé
  • Lourd (Heavy) is Relou
  • Fou (Crazy) is Ouf 
  • Mater (Look at) is Tema
  • Fête (Party) is Teuf

I could write down tons of examples of it since the French people use verlan with most words of their language.

The Youtuber Paul Taylor explains perfectly the verlan in one of his videos (at 2’25”) and how the verlan is driving him nuts. 

It is an inversion of the syllables of a word but did you know that it was possible to have a double inversion? This is the case with the example that I used with “Femme”. This word can be transformed into “Meuf” as we saw, but it can be modified again to obtain “Feumeu”. I prefer to reassure you, that there is not a triple inversion, double is crazy enough right?

To conclude, languages are always different from the classroom to the place you are going to travel or live. The French language can sometimes be hard to learn and verlan can make you feel that you did not learn much of French during your studies. I want to let you know that slangs are, to me, the last step of mastering a language. Verlan makes the step probably a little bigger but I am sure you can do it! I recommend you to read my article about French slang: 50 French slang Words that your Teacher Hides from You.

Your name is Kevin? If yes, you have to read my article: The Curse of Being Named Kevin in the French Culture.

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Wednesday 17th of June 2020

I hate to say it but I really, really do not like verlan and kind of wish that only young people from the suburbs used it, because then I could just not learn it. It's not just that it is DIFFICULT. Learning these words shouldn't be more difficult than learning words that are of the soutenu register or rare/outdated (which I don't really have a problem with). I just think that it sounds really ugly when compared to regular French and me not liking how it sounds makes it harder to remember. *Sigh* Maybe one day. Though I don't see myself ever using it.


Thursday 18th of June 2020

Verlan can be annoying for a French learner, but it is everywhere in the French culture from movies to music.