Friday, February 11, 2005


Last night...

Frog: What's the name of your blog thing again?

Bird: L'Oiseau Anglais

Frog: Oiseau or Oiseuse?

Bird: Oiseau. We've been through that conversation before

Frog: You know Bird doesn't translate

Bird: No, really Einstein? I wasn't exactly going to call it Nana Anglaise

Frog: Or Meuf Anglaise ha ha ha

The reason Frog thought that Meuf was funny is that it is not Standard French or even just slang but Verlan.

Verlan is a type of slang that came from the suburbs... and it can have a rather "low'" connotation.

Its form is interesting though because it's a bit like pig Latin. Except that the French actively use it. I discovered it through MTV (one of my prime language resources).

The following has been taken from one of my favourite resources, - it also has an "essential" Verlan vocab section*.

To "verlan" a word, simply separate it into syllables, reverse them, and put the word back together. In order to maintain the correct pronunciation, the verlaned word often undergoes some spelling adjustments. Unnecessary letters are dropped, while other letters are added to make pronunciation logical. There are no real rules for this; it's just something to be aware of. Note that not every word can or should be verlaned; verlan is used essentially to emphasize or hide the meaning of the main word(s) in a sentence.

Let's start with the word l'envers, which means the reverse. Separate l'envers into its two syllables l'en and vers. Invert them, put them together into a single word, and then adjust the spelling:
l'envers... l'en vers... vers l'en... versl'en... verslen... verlen... verlan
Thus, you can see that verlan is l'envers pronounced à l'envers (reverse pronounced in reverse).
Let's try another example: pourri... pou rri... rri pou... rripou... ripou

Most single-syllable words are just pronounced backwards.
Fou... ouf
Cool (from English)... looc

The above examples are pretty simple, but verlan gets more complicated when it comes to the e muet, which is a very important sound in verlan. Words that end in e muet (like femme) and words which end in a pronounced consonant and which usually have an e muet sound tacked onto the end (like flic, which is usually pronounced flique) retain the sound of the e muet when they are verlaned. In addition, when the syllables are reversed, the resulting final vowel sound is sometimes dropped.

Flic... fli keu... keu fli... keufli... keuf
Femme... fa meu... meu fa... meufa... meuf
Arabe... a ra beu... beu ra a... beura... beur

Verlan was invented as a secret language, a way for people (notably youths, drug users, and criminals) to communicate freely in front of authority figures (parents, police). Because much of verlan has become incorporated into French, verlan continues to evolve - sometimes words are "re-verlaned." Beur, commonly heard in the 1980's, has been reversed again to reub. Keuf has been re-verlaned to feuk, with a bonus - it now resembles a vulgar word in English.

*Remember that verlan is a form of slang, so use caution when talking to someone you vouvoie.


Katia said...

Oh gee, I had a big old bitch about verlan the other day on my blog. It's like a whole other vocabulary in itself! There is one particular guy at my work who is a "banlieusard" who talks verlan all the time, and I really had to concentrate in the beginning to understand what he was talking about ;)
I rarely use it myself, as I think it would sould weird coming out of my mouth ;)

L'Oiseau said...

ahh I shall have to check your post out... I don't have to deal with it on a daily basis (even though I'm in st ouen) as everyone here in the office is about 10 years older than me :)

kim said...

David absolutely hates when I use slang, so I don't even try to get away with verlan. (Hell, if I use "thunes" for money, he gives me the look, the fire-spitting-out-from-the-eyeballs look. I can get away with "fric", barely. I suppose "balles" would be the best slang-for-money choice (as he says it a lot), but now there's that whole confusion where people aren't really sure if you are taking in old-francs or euros, so. ugh.

Anyway, the only verlan our circle really ever uses is "teuf." hmm.

Sarita said...

Wow...very helpful explanation of verlan. You rock...I will have to pass this on to all my friends who I gave very bad, choppy explanations too...