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French word of the day: Chelou

If there's something strange in the neighbourhood then this is the French word you can call upon.

French word of the day: Chelou
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know chelou?

Young people say it all the time, but lately it has sneaked into the mouths of their parents too.

What does it mean?

Chelou is an example of verlan, the vocabulary consisting of words French teens have taken and twisted into cooler versions of the originals (in this case louche).

READ ALSO Verlan – France's 'backwards' language

Like louche, chelou means ‘weird’, ‘odd’, ‘strange’ or ‘bizarre’.

It’s slightly stronger than the non-verlan version, often accompanied by ‘trop’ or ‘tellement’.

If you are discussing UK politics with French person and wish to explain the debate over chief adviser to the PM Dominic Cummings' controversial call for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for new jobs at No. 10 – well, then chelou would be a way of translating the term.


Tu as vu comment il s’habille ? Trop chelou ! – Have you seen how he dresses? So weird!

J'en peux plus des mecs. Ils sont tous tellement chelous – I can't deal with men anymore. They're all so freaky

Ma copine est tellement cheloue en ce moment, je pense rompre avec elle – My girlfriend is so odd at the moment, I think I might break up with her


Other ways of saying chelou is (trop) bizarre or (très) étrange.

A word of warning

A teenager might say the definition of chelou is hearing a parent say it.

So if you're an adult maybe use chelou with other adults if it feels natural, but avoid using it when accompanied by teens (especially if said teens are your children's French teenager friends). No one wants to be  Mr or Ms 'trying too hard'.

READ ALSO Should foreigners (especially the over 30s) steer clear of verlan?

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For members


French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

This French expression has little to do with storage devices.

French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

Why do I need to know c’est le box?

Because you might have described your adolescent bedroom this way.

What does it mean?

C’est le box roughly pronounced say luh box – comes from the longer expression c’est le boxon, and does not have to do with a container to store things. In reality, c’est le box means either literally or figuratively that something is a mess or disaster.

It is a synonym for the more commonly used French expression c’est le bordel

Both are slang terms that border on being vulgar, are originally references to brothels, and describe disorder or disarray.

The word boxon first appeared in the early 1800s in the form of bocson, which meant cabaret and later “house of tolerance”. Its origins are disputed, but over the past two centuries it has come to be synonymous with a “place of debauchery” and later messiness and disorder.

You can also say “Quel box!” or “Quel Boxon!” to mean “What a mess!” or “What a disaster!”

If you are looking for a less vulgar way to describe a mess, you could instead say “c’est le bazar”.

Use it like this

C’est quand la dernière fois que tu as nettoyé ta chambre ? C’est le box ici. – When was the last time you cleaned your room? It is a disaster in here.

Je ne suis pas la seule personne qui pense que c’est le boxon dans cette ville en ce moment. – I’m not the only person who thinks this city is a mess right now.