Seven French phrases to help you understand what the cool kids are on about

The Local France
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Seven French phrases to help you understand what the cool kids are on about
If you want to keep up with Paris bar chat, you may need verlan. Photo: AFP

If you're watching Netflix France's hot new series Family Business, you may have noticed something funny about the language they are using.


Set in a lower-income part of Paris, the charming and subversive comedy has been pulling in big audience figures since it was released on the streaming site last week.

But it might prove a touch hard to follow for Anglophones, as the younger characters in it litter their speech with verlan (and quite a few English words too, but that's another story).

Not found in the official dictionary, verlan - France's 'backwards' language - is nevertheless highly popular among the young.

So whether you're a fan of French TV or film, or want to hang out in trendy Paris nightspots chatting to locals, here are some verlan words that you will need to know.


1. Meuf

Like all Verlan words, meuf is formed by inverting another word's syllables. In this case, that word is femme (woman) which is turned into meuf as follows: fe - mme => me - fe => meuf. 
Meuf is the equivalent of saying 'woman', 'girl' or 'bird' in English and is often used to describe a woman who is sexually desirable. 
However it has recently been reclaimed by female teens and young women to describe each other, as a gender specific version of 'mate'. 
For example, you might hear J'ai vu une meuf bizarre dans le bus - I saw a weird chick on the bus.
Or, Kevin est venu à la soirée avec sa meuf. - Kevin came to the party with his girl.
You'll also hear young women addressing friends in the street with Eh, meuf! - Hey, girl!
2. Keum
The male equivalent of meuf is keum. Formed by inverting the casual word mec (a bloke or a guy) it can be used to describe a man, although you would usually use it for younger men, rather than for your boss or your father-in-law. 
So you might hear - J’ai rencontré un keum chaud hier soir - I met a hot guy yesterday evening.
3. Zarbi
The inverted form of bizarre (bi - zarre => zarre - bi => zarbi) this is a good way of describing something that is strange or odd.
For example, you might hear J'ai vu un mec zarbi dans la rue - I saw a weird guy in the street.
Or, Il y avait beaucoup d'objets zarbis au marché aux puces. - There were many strange objects at the flea market.
4. Relou
The word being inverted here is lourd - but not in its literal sense, ‘heavy', but rather the figurative one, used to describe a presence or situation that is oppressive, irritating, or unbearable.
Lourd, in which the ‘d' often goes unpronounced, gets an ‘e' tacked on in between the ‘r' and ‘l', to become relou.
Like lourd, relou is used to talk about someone or something that is irritating or oppressive, but the verlan version, probably because it is less formal and more slangy, carries a little bit of extra oomph.
Relou is probably most frequently used when talking about a person whose presence or behaviour is or has become oppressive:
Au début, Pierre semblait cool, mais il est devenu trop relou - At first, Pierre seemed cool, but he got really annoying.
Especially when applied to a man, relou usually refers to the sort of guy who makes bad jokes, lacks tact, and doesn't know when their presence is unwanted… think Michael Scott from the Office (or David Brent in the UK version), seen without any sympathy.
Arrête de la draguer tout le temps, t'es relou! - Stop hitting on her all the time, you're a pain in the ass!
It can also be used to describe a disagreeable situation, much like ‘that sucks' in English.
Comment ça se passe, le travail à Paris ? - Je ne fais que métro, boulot, dodo, c'est relou. - How's the job in Paris going? - I do nothing but commute, work, and sleep, it sucks.
5. Vénère
While we're on the theme of being pissed off, vénère is a handy one to have. It's 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!
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.
6. Ouf
For people above a certain age, this might be what you say when you get up from a low chair, but in verlan its meaning is very different.
The word being inverted is fou (crazy).
As well as being used on its own to describe something crazy, mad or generally bizarre, ouf is often seen as part of the phrase un truc de ouf (a crazy thing).
If you saw a film that really blew your mind you might say, c'était un truc de ouf! It was so good!.
Or, to describe a negative experience you might say Je suis bloqué dans un embouteillage, dépuis 8h. C'est un truc de ouf! I've been stuck in a traffic jam since 8 am. It's crazy.
7. Cimer
And just because you're down with the kids, there's no reason to stop being polite. Cimer is the inverted form of merci (thank you).
So if you do someone a favour, you might hear them respond with T’es trop sympa, cimer! - you're too nice, thanks.


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