Why do I need to know vénère?
Besides its ubiquity in everyday speech and protests, vénère is a good example of verlan, almost a dialect unto itself of French slang.
Vénère is a verlan word, meaning that it is formed by inverting the syllables of another word.
Even the word verlan itself is created this way – the word (with article) l’envers, mean ‘the inverse’, has its syllables reversed as follows: l’envers -> vers-l’en -> ‘verlan’
This same method is applied to all sorts of words, creating a sort of sub-dialect of argot, of which vénère is a prime example.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of verlan, and some theorize that the principal of syllable inversion goes back as far as Voltaire, born François-Marie Arouet, who may have reversed the name of the village of Airvault to create his nom de plume. In the 20th century, it was used as a sort of secret language by the French to throw off the German occupiers. After World War II, those on society’s margins used it to talk about socially unacceptable subjects, like drugs and criminal activity, as demonstrated by August Le Breton’s 1953 novel (later made into the famous heist movie), Du rififi chez les hommes.
This argot became popular in the poorer banlieues, or city suburbs, and was influenced by the heavily influenced largely North African immigrant populations that lived there. Over time, verlan began to make its way into popular culture, notably with the Renaud song Laisse béton (‘laisse tomber’ meaning ‘let it go’) in 1977 or the cop movie Les Ripoux (‘les pourris’ meaning ‘the rotten ones’, a pejorative nickname for the police) in 1984.
But verlan really became widespread in the 1990s, popularized by French hip hop groups like NTM. Today, many verlan words are understood by just about all French people, and vénère is one of them. For more on verlan, check out this article.
So what does vénère mean?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, vénère is verlan for énervé, meaning ‘irritated’, ‘angry’, or even ‘pissed off’ – the first and last ‘é’ are combined (énervé -> vé-éner -> vénère). As in,
Je suis trop vénère, ta soeur m’a piqué mon mec !
‘I’m really angry, your sister stole my man!’
Son père était hyper vénère quand il a appris sa note au bac.
‘His dad was super pissed when he found out about his grade on the bac (end of high school exam).’
As it means ‘angry’ or ‘irritated’, the word vénère is often used by protesters, like the students at the University of Paris Nanterre protesting against the Macron government's 2018 higher education reform, who called themselves Nanterre Vénère:
Vénère is argot and probably not ideal for professional situations, so if you want to avoid the slang, you can always just say énervé or en colère, another common descriptor used by protestors.
More colorful options include furax, a variation of furieux (‘furious’), and en pétard, pétard meaning firecracker.