If you're looking to improve your French, memorize this list.
The French love (and hate) their cars as much as Anglos do and have bestowed upon their four-wheeled conveyances a tonne of nicknames like “la bagnole, la caisse, la tire.” In formal settings “voiture” is the correct word to use of course.
This word has scores of slang terms in every language and French is no exception. When you talk about cash you may hear “le fric, le pognon, le blé, la thune, l’oseille”. But remember the proper word here is “argent.”
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No surprise that a country known for its great wine would have tonnes of words for it. The funny thing is many of the slang terms like “le pinard, le picrate, le pive,” refer to cheap vino. Yes, bad wine is even possible in France. The proper word for wine of course is ‘vin’.
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France saw its lowest birth rate last year in over a decade, but its number of slang words for children is doing just fine. In the street you’re likely to hear “la gosse, un/e gamin/e, le môme” for little ones. “Enfant” is the proper word. And for kids you're likely to hear "les gosses" in more informal settings.
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The criminal underworld is awash with jargon, presumably in order to cloak its nefarious activities. Here are just a few of the French slang or informal terms for crooks: “le voyou, le truand, la racaille, le malfrat (from malfaiteur)”, although some may not be considered as slang. The proper term is “criminel”.
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Cops seem to employ just about as much slang and jargon as their criminal counterparts. Civilians have taken up the practice of not always flatteringly referring to police as “les flics, les keufs, les poulets, les schmitts” in France. Just remember “policier” is always polite.
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When it comes to work the French are often keen to call it anything but the normal word for it. They will frequently use “le boulot, le taf, le job, la bosse” to talk about their occupation. The formal word is “travail”.
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Many, many French expressions use food to paint a picture, which is perhaps some manifestation of the country’s obsession with what’s on the table. However, when referring to food in general you are most likely to hear “la bouffe” or its cousin the verb “bouffer”. When you want to impress, better use the word “nourriture” for food or "repas" for meal or "manger" (to eat).
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As affairs of the heart can be complicated, it’s perhaps fitting that there is a slew of words to describe one’s male romantic partner in France. There is “le mec, le copain, le loulou”. If in doubt the term “petit ami” is always safe.
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French ladies are known in the Anglo world for their trim figure, effortless style and top notch parenting skills. But in France their boyfriends often refer to them with the not always respectful words such as “la nana, la copine, la gonzesse, la meuf, la loulotte”. If you want to be polite “petite amie” is a sure bet.Photo: Francisco Osorio/ Flickr
A drink (of the alcoholic kind)
The French are avid drinkers, behind only Russians and Brits for the title of world’s biggest consumer of alcohol. When a French friend invites you out for a drink it will be a “le verre, le pot, le coup”. These phrases are generally OK in polite company.
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The working Frenchman’s refrain of “Metro, Boulot, Dodo” (Metro, work, sleep) takes its third part from this slang term for shut-eye. However, “dodo” is primarily baby talk, so it’s not quite as street tough as some of the slang you’ve seen here. 'Pioncer' is more grown up, and refers more to having a nap. The world “sommeil” is just fine when talking to adults.
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With kids being behind most slang words it's not surprising that there is a slang word for school, which is "bahut". And it's the same for university, which you will probably hear students refer to as "le fac". "Ecole" and "université" are the formal words to use. It's worth noting that "bahut" is also slang for taxi and truck as well. It's pronounced [bah u].
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If you hear a French person talking about their clothes, which you will do a lot in Paris, your likely to hear the word "fringues", which is the slang version of "vêtements". And there's also a slang verb for "to get dressed" - "se fringuer" - that you can use instead of "s'habiller".
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And finally it will come as no surprise to anyone that the French, famous for their smoking habits, have a few different words for cigarettes. Whereas we would say "fags", "ciggies" or "smokes" they will say "clope" or "sèche". Best stick to "cigarette" if you are in formal surroundings.
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Members of family: There are plenty of slang names for family members in France: "frangine" for sister (soeur), "frangin" for brother (frere) or frérot, which would be used like Anglo 'bro', and extends to casually greeting friends, too. Then there is the slightly derogatory "les vieux", which is used to refer to parents, to the distinctly derogatory "belle-doche" which is an alternative to "belle-mere" for mother-in-law. Warning: only use if you're certain she's not around! Oh and you might hear the family dog referred to as a "clebard" rather than a "chien".
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To express that you like something
And lastly, if someone tells you that they "kiffe" your new hair cut, take it as a compliment. "Kiffer" means "to like" in a cool, hip way. However, don't bother telling an elderly person that you "kiffe" anything of theirs. The likelihood of them knowing what you mean is slim.
Another way you might hear French people describing things they like, is by calling it "chanmé(/e)". Like a lot of French slang, it came from another word being inverted, in this case "méchant" and means "wicked". So you will understand why older people may not view this as a positive word, either.
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