French Expression of the Day: Les stups

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French Expression of the Day:  Les stups
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You'll probably see this word pop up a few times when browsing the crime section of your local French newspaper.


Why do I need to know les stups?

Because you might want yet another way to refer to the boys-in-blue in French.

What does it mean?

Les stups – pronounced roughly as "lay stoop" –  is the shortened version of “les stupéfiants,”which is a term for psychoactive drugs. In common use, it refers to the specific team of police officers tasked with investigating narcotics and drug trafficking. In English, the exact translation would likely be the ‘narcotic police’ or ‘drug squad.’


In the media, you will likely see this word when it is used to reference a drug stop (trafic des stups) or in reference to les policiers des stups for articles about drug busts. Maybe you will hear it used, though somewhat pejoratively, when referencing a police officer that works for this specific brigade (flic de stups) which might more appropriately translate to a NARC in English. 

The word stupéfiant entered the French vocabulary in the 19th century, particularly simply for pharmacology use. But it only became associated with the police in 1989, when the Prime Minister officially made the drug squad separate from the “vice squad.”

It's used like this

La police des stupéfiants a saisi 9 kg de marijuana à Bordeaux hier. – The narcotic police seized 9kg of marijuana in Bordeaux yesterday.

Il a été arrêté par les stups à la gare parce qu'ils le soupçonnaient de transporter de la drogue.–  He was stopped by the narcotic police at the train station because they suspected him of transporting drugs.


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