When it comes to learning foreign languages, learning slang is essential to making you truly sound like a native speaker.
While the formal grammar and vocabulary of a language is learned in a classroom or textbook, slang is picked up in the streets. It’s usually country- and/or region-specific. This is especially true for French slang – what you hear casually spoken in Paris is likely to mean something entirely different than in, say, Montreal!
As I come from a French-Canadian background, Parisian slang was and still is a learning process for me. While I still hear new-to-me words all the time – which I usually jot down in a notebook to ask a French friend about later – I’m starting to become accustomed to a lot of them. I’ve even started successfully integrating them into my everyday vocabulary.
If you’d like to start speaking like a Parisian, I’d recommend memorizing some of the words and expressions below. After you’ve got those covered, maybe you can even consider tackling verlan!
N’importe quoi is a loaded and versatile expression that can mean several things depending on the context. It is used to describe something that the speaker considers to be nonsense, to talk nonsense, to be out of control, to answer the first thing that pops into your head, or simply to say “whatever!”.
Top is an anglicism used to describe something as being the best, or excellent in general. For example, you could say it in response to a coworker accomplishing a task you’d assigned them, or when describing a particularly good book you’d recently read.
Chouette is another way of describing something as being nice or great. I frequently hear it being used in the context of someone doing something nice for another person.
Nickel is the French version of the English word “awesome!”. Also meaning “great” and “excellent”, it is a very informal expression.
If you find something particularly funny or amusing, you would describe it as being rigolo.
A variance on the expression allons-y, c’est parti means something along the lines of “and we’re off!”, “here we go!” or “here goes!”. It signals the beginning of something and can be said anywhere from when starting a meeting at work, to leaving with a group of friends to a bar.
Moche is another word where it’s meaning depends on the context. It can either be used to describe something that’s awful or sad, or to describe something that’s ugly, gross, or revolting.
To say something is con, is to say it is stupid or dumb. It can also be used as an insult to say that someone is an idiot or a jerk, so be careful when using this one!
“C’est le bordel”
While bordel literally translates to brothel, in French slang it is used to describe a mess. C’est le bordel! means “It’s a mess!”.
Bouffer is another word for manger, that is to say to eat something. In fact, it has more or less replaced the latter in everyday speech among young people. Similarly, la bouffe is another word for food.
Clope is simply a commonly used slang word for cigarettes.
Bobo is short for bourgeois bohême. It is a word used to describe a young person who is fashionable, middle-class, leftist, and who follows all the latest trends while claiming to be counter-culture. It can also be used to describe neighbourhoods that have been gentrified. I would personally say it is the French version of the English word “hipster”.
Like bouffer, kiffer has replaced a commonly used verb in the vocabulary of young French people. Kiffer is another word for aimer or to like something. While best used to describe work, hobbies, or an object, it can also be used to describe a crush (for example, je kiffe Louis means you are romantically interested in Louis).
Taf is shorthand for travail a faire or “work to do” in English. It can be used in reference to both your work tasks, and your job itself.