Verlan is a phenomenon I did not fully experience until I moved to Paris. I’d visited France many times before, and had several French friends (even a few petits amis !), but verlan wasn’t so apparent until I arrived in the capital, where it takes up a huge chunk of the average Parisian’s vocabulary.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably also someone who was similarly stumped when they first encountered verlan. But don’t worry – I will do my best try to clear things up!
What is verlan?
In short, verlan is an argot of the French language, commonly used by young people. It consists of the inversion of the syllables of a word, in order to create slang. The world ‘verlan’ itself is derived from the word ‘l’envers’ – French for ‘inverse’.
Characteristics of verlan include retaining the pronunciation of the original syllables, as well as frequently dropping the final vowel sound after the word is inverted. Single-syllable words are subject to different rules, depending on if they are open or closed, whereas ones with multiple syllables are verlan-ized in more than one way.
What’s more, verlan is an open-ended process of creating new words, which is to say that the number and variations of verlan words will only ever continue to grow. This means that beginners to the slang are better off figuring out the rules of creating verlan words, so that they can decipher meaning, as opposed to trying to memorize ones that exist.
As verlan is an oral argot, there is no strictly standardized way of spelling the inverted words. However, there are many spellings which are commonplace.
History of Verlan
One would think that verlan is a contemporary creation. However, it’s actually much, much older, having been a part of French society for centuries.
It can be traced back as far back as to the famous French writer Voltaire (also known as François-Marie Arouet), who it’s argued came up with his nom de plume by inverting the name of the city of Airvault.
Verlan was even used by members of the French Resistance as a way to secretly communicate during the German occupation of the 1940s.
After hundreds of years of use, the word “verlan” became official in the 1950s. This was followed by its adoption by rappers from the French suburbs in the 1980s. It has since gone on to become an important part of the French linguistical lexicon, with expats and locals alike saying that it’s integral to day-to-day life.
20 Verlan Words to Know
While there are an uncountable number of verlan words out there, below are some that I frequently hear on the streets and out of the mouths of French friends:
- meuf – femme (woman)
- chelou – louche (strange or bizarre)
- teuf – fête (party)
- féca – café (coffee)
- keuf – flic (police officer)
- céfran -français (French)
- tromé – métro (metro)
- ouf – fou (crazy)
- cimer – merci (thank you)
- vénère – énervé (angry)
- chébran – branché (cool)
- zarbi – bizarre (weird)
- reum –mère (mother)
- chanmé – méchant (mean)
- geudin – dingue (crazy)
- jourbon – bonjour (hello)
- keum – mec (guy)
- pécho – choper (steal)
- relou – lourd (heavy)
- reuf –frère (brother)