The French spoken by the French is not the French you learned in high school. Real life French is riddled with argot, or slang. But do not despair, there are two pieces of good news. First, you don’t need to speak argot. In fact, with limited exceptions (slang that is so mainstream it’s easy to forget it’s actually slang), you might actually sound silly using French slang if you’re not a native speaker. Even if your French is excellent! The second piece of good news is that there are not a ton of commonly used French slang words. Just a handful of slang words used very often.

Seine

French instructor Sabrina Haouzi and I came up with a list of the most commonly heard argot in Paris. Learn the following, and you’re well on your way to breaking free from the constraints of your classroom French:

  • Chiant – as in “c’est chiant”, meaning “that’s sh*tty”
  • Un mec – a guy
  • Une nana – a girl/woman
  • Un flic – a cop
  • Le fric – money
  • Un type – a guy
  • Bourré(e) – drunk
  • La gueule – technically an animal’s mouth, but in slang it means “face”
  • Gueuler – to shout
  • Bobo – short for bourgeois bohème, the closest term in English would probably be “yuppy” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. This gets you closer: http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2000/may/28/focus.news1.
  • Kiffer – to like someone or something (ex. “Je kiffe trop ton pull !” = “I really like your sweater!”)
  • Un bolos (sometimes written as “boloss”)– someone who is very gullible, naïve
  • Un beauf – an unintelligent and old-fashioned man, lacking manners, narrow-minded
  • Un mytho – a liar
  • La bouffe – food
  • Bouffer – to eat

In addition to slang, there are colloquial terms you will hear rolling off French tongues quite often but that may not appear in your textbooks. These are not so taboo for use by non-native speakers:

  • Un boulot – a job
  • Bosser – to work
  • Un pote – a friend/buddy
  • Naze – (very) tired
  • Dégueulasse – disgusting
  • Un gamin – a kid
  • Une bagnole – a car
  • Un bouquin – a book
  • Avoir le seum – to be disgusted

Of course no discussion of not-your-classroom French would be complete without touching on le verlan. Verlan is a type of slang originally developed by prisoners, whereby the speaker inverts the syllables of the word, often of the already-slang word. Where does the term verlan come from? It’s the inversion of l’envers (“the inverse”). Even more so than the regular slang, you will sound like a pompous idiot if you use these words as a non-native speaker (credit caleb). But it’s still important to understand the most commonly used words in verlan, which have become everyday speech in the younger generations.

  • Une meuf – a woman (derived from femme)
  • Un keum – a guy (derived from mec)
  • Pécho – to grab, catch or often it means to kiss or to hook up (derived from the verb chopper; ex. “Il m’a pécho !” = “He kissed me!”)
  • Un keuf – a cop (derived from flic)
  • Du keuf – money (derived from fric)
  • Un beur – an Arab (derived from arabe)
  • Un feuj – a Jew (derived from juif)
  • Être vénère – to be annoyed (derived from énervé)

That should be enough colloquial speak, argot and verlan to get you started!

 

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