The 10 most common French words you won’t learn in school

The 10 most common French words you won't learn in school
Learning French goes further than what you read in school textbooks. Photo: AFP
Once you've mastered the basics of French you will discover a whole subsection of words and phrases that definitely won't be in your textbooks. French writer Olivia Sorrel Dejerine gives us a run-down on verlan.

If you’ve been living in France for a while or have been hanging out with some French friends, there are chances you may have heard some words of Verlan – France’s “back-to-front” slang language.

In short, the language essentially sees the sounds of a word’s syllables pronounced back-to-front. In fact, the word “verlan” itself is an example of Verlan, as it’s the French word “L’envers” (reverse) in reverse.

Verlan has existed since the 17th century, according to Jean-Paul Colin, author of the Dictionnaire de l’argot français et de ses origines, and Verlan words are now an essential part of the French vocabulary (at least with the younger generations).

They have become so common that some can be found in the dictionary such as meuf – femme – woman, keuf – flic – policeman or beur – arabe – used to describe young people from North African origin who were born in France to immigrant parents.

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Listening to conversations is a great way of hearing Verlan. Photo: AFP

In fact it’s so solidly established in daily French life, that the really cool kids are using words coming from the language of different communities living in France such as Arabic, Bambara (used in Mali) or Creole, according to Le Parisien.

Rappers, known to be ambassadors of slang, use them in their songs and make them popular. Mister You or PNL are among the many acclaimed artists who use these new words in their lyrics. 

A lot of them can be found in the Dictionnaire de la zone by Abdelkarim Tengour who made a list of more than hundreds of expressions coming from les banlieues (the suburbs).

And if you really want to be up to date on the latest expressions of slang, you can take a look at the website blazz.  

Younger generations use thousands of expressions the older don’t have a clue about. Photo: AFP

But for now, you can stick to Verlan and some of its most common words you can use without sounding like a tourist and that anyone (apart from maybe the very elderly and stuffy) will understand:

Cimer : merci (thank you) – Tu peux me passer le sel? Cimer – Can you hand me the salt? Thanks.

Ouf: Fou (crazy) – C’est ouf ! – That’s crazy!

Chelou: louche (weird) – Cette situation est trop chelou ! – This situation is super weird!

Véner : énervé (angry) – ça me véner de ouf ! – That annoys me a lot!

Chanmé : méchant (nasty) – Cette soirée est chanmée ! – That party is awesome!

Teuf : fête (party) – J’ai trop hâte de faire la teuf ! – I can’t wait to party!

Relou : lourd (unbearable) – Ma mère est trop relou aujourd’hui. – My mother is really getting on my nerves today.

Pécho : choper (to catch but it is also means to kiss) – Tu l’as pécho? – Did you kiss him?

Teubé: bête (stupid) – T’es trop teubé. – You’re so stupid.

Laisse béton : laisse tomber (don’t bother) – Laisse béton on a perdu trop de temps ! – Don’t bother we’ve lost too much time!

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