I started studying French in high school. Then, I majored in it at the University of Michigan. Then, I studied abroad in Grenoble. Then, I taught English in Normandy for eight months. Then, I taught French for a few years. Then, I moved to Lorraine for a while. You could say that I spoke French fairly well at this point, and I did, but I kept hearing words pop up in conversation that I had never heard of before, like, ever.
So, finally I asked someone what this word (meuf) was that I kept hearing over and over and over, and then it all made sense: Verlan.
Verlan is a form of the French language common among the youth, the word “verlan” being an example itself of how the language functions. It basically works like this: take the syllables of a word and switch them. Easy enough, right? The French word “l’envers” (meaning inverse) is pronounced “lan-ver.” Switch the order of these two syllables, thus pronouncing the word inversely and voilà, you have the word “Verlan.” Clever, oui?
Here’s a list of commonplace “verlanised” words that you’re sure to hear at some point in conversation with a young French person. Words that are only one syllable work a little differently, but you get the idea:
Verlan Original word Meaning
meuf femme woman
ouf fou crazy
chelou louche shady
féca café coffee/café
relou lourd heavy
teuf fête party
tof photo photo
zarbi bizarre bizarre
céfran français French
Remember, this is “street language” so be sure to leave it there, and keep it proper in the salle de classe!