• France's news in English
French slang: Everyday words you need to know
Photo: Francisco Osorio/ Flickr

French slang: Everyday words you need to know

The Local · 20 May 2016, 16:45

Published: 20 May 2016 16:44 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 May 2016 16:45 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Photo:Pedrosimoes7/ Flickr
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.”
Photo: Scris/ Flickr
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’.
Photo: Neil Conway/ Flickr
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.
Photo: Pascal Pavani/ AFP
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”.
Photo: Victor Casale/ Flickr
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.
Photo: Boris Horvat/ Flickr
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”.
Photo: FortuneLiveMedia/ Flickr
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).
Photo: LocalJapanTimes/ Flickr
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.
Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP
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.
Photo: Malias/ Flickr
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.
Photo: Agoode/ Flickr
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].
Photo: Rune Mathison/ Flickr
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".
Photo: Harika Reddy/ Flickr
Story continues below…
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.
Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP
Family members
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".
Photo: Hammiam/ Flickr
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. 
Photo: Nestor Galina/ Flickr
An originalhttp://www.thelocal.fr/20140415/everyday-slang-you-need-in-france version of this story appeared on The Local in April, 2014.
Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Revealed: The ten most stolen cars in France
A Smart car in Paris. Photo: JR_Paris/Flickr

Thieves in France are getting a taste for luxury cars, it seems.

Analysis - France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'to sell their French chateau'
All photos: AFP

Want to live where Brangelina got married?

How Paris is rapidly becoming Europe's 'City of Innovation'
Photo: AFP

If you want to start a company then Paris is the place to do it, it seems.

'Jungle' clearance: Migrants begin to leave Calais camp
All photos: AFP

The "Jungle" clearance is underway.

France's 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

French FM calls for end to Aleppo 'massacre'
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the international community cannot ‘come to a negotiation under the bombs’. Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP file picture

France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia.

Parisians cheer on protesting French police
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
jobs available