When learning French, we are usually taught a very formal version of the French language. This is because it is assumed that most people will be using their intermediate level French for business or simply on holidays. So you learn your French vocabulary and French grammar, perfect your French pronunciation, memorize your verbs and make sure your adjectives agree. But once you get out onto the street, you will find that colloquial French is not quite the same thing.
It’s not just how you pronounce it. It’s the difference in rhythm and, most importantly perhaps, in vocabulary. In fact, a lot of French people use French slang terms in everyday life. While they might not speak completely in “argot”, slang phrases and idiomatic expressions abound, not just in cafés along the Seine, but also in French movies and French books.
So to help you out when you are ready to move on to advanced French and go from “bonjour!” to “salut!” (a word that can also mean “au revoir”), here are some basic French words that your French courses Montreal teacher never taught you.
This is not the true argot, or street slang, which seems to invent new words hourly, but instead focuses on informal French that you might encounter every day.
Learning French is fun but formal. Many of the things you will be taught in your French lessons could help you interact in a formal setting. This is because many people who learn French do so to interact better in a business and professional setting.
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However, a French slang version is different from what is needed in a corporate environment. It is a version of French that is required to relate better when on the streets.
When on the streets, you will need to understand some French slang different from what you might have learned in your French lessons.
Slang are always different in terms of rhythm and vocabulary. They do not follow any definite pattern and are needed in everyday life, especially when you are in a region where French is the predominant language.
There is more to "good morning" with French slang than "bonjour," which is the formal expression. In this article, Superprof outlines some basic French slang that you should know to aid your everyday interactions.
Learning this slang, you can communicate better on the streets, in a restaurant or bar, and when you go out to see a movie with your friends and loved ones.
French Slang Words for People
People are all around you. In your French classes Ottawa, you were taught to interact with them, learned all the French greetings and how to say “Monsieur” and “Madame”. But start a conversation with a French speaker and the masculine and feminine suddenly have other names.
Man and woman: know the difference
In common French usage, you might end up hearing a sentence like one of these:
“Le mec là-bas a l’air trop beau!” That bloke over there is so cute!
“T’as vu la nana? Je suis à peine plus grande qu’elle!” “See that girl? I’m hardly much taller than her!”
“Boah, la gonzesse, quelle emmerdeuse!” “Gods, that girl, she gets on my nerves!”
“Mec” and “nana” are fairly standard words for a man (mec) and woman (nana) and are fairly neutral. You probably wouldn’t use them to designate your closest friends, but they’re not pejorative. “Gonzesse” is a little less common word for a woman and is not quite as flattering, though it’s not an insult per se.
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Here is a list of words you can use to refer to children:
- “des gamins”
- “des mioches”
- “des gosses”
- “des mômes”.
You can use these to refer to your own children without being branded a bad parent:
“Allez, les mômes, on rentre. Il fait tard.” “Come on kids, we’re going home. It’s late.”
Teenagers are “ados”, a shortened form of “un adolescent”.
No matter where you are in the world, you will be surrounded by people, and communication is important to interact with the people around you. In a French class, you are taught about the basics of interacting with people and how to address them.
However, when you go out on the streets, you may discover a difference in words used that you may begin to question your French lessons. These lessons are as right as what you hear on the streets, except that the streets use slang.
As against what you were taught in a French class, you may hear people making expressions like:
"Boah, la gonzesse, quelled emmerdeuse" to mean "My God, that girl, she getting on my nerves."
'T'as vu la nana? Je suits a peine plus grande qu'elle" to mean “See that girl there? I'm not as tall as she is."
From the above examples, you will discover that the expressions take a different turn from what you will get in a formal French class, right? Yes, and that's because these are slang used to interact with people you meet daily. Other French slangs that can be used to refer to people include:
A Slang Word for Important Body Parts
When making up your vocabulary flashcards, don’t forget the slang word for mouth: “gueule” (also used in: “ta gueule!”, shut your trap). Above “la gueule” there is “ le pif”, the nose, and on either side “les esgourdes” or “étiquettes” (the ears). To go further down the body, you also have “un bide” (a stomach) and, corresponding in back, “un cul” (an arse). Don’t pronounce the final L in “cul” (it’s kü).
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Don’t know the argot for “hand”? You can always try slang dictionaries such as Dictionnaire de la Zone or this online French French argot dictionary (you can say it different ways, including “pattes” or “patoches”).
Another aspect of learning French slang that you may be interested in is that of body parts. When you hear people on the streets referring to their body parts, you might be wondering what these people are saying. That's because it is different from what your French tutor taught you in class. Again, don't take this to mean what you were taught in class was wrong.
Like it is with the English language that some terms used to refer to body parts may be different from the original words; the same applies to French. Some slang words for important body parts include:
"Gueule" - Mouth.
"Le pif" - Nose.
"Etiquettes" - Ears.
"Un bide" - Stomach.
Are there body parts that you are finding it difficult to get the slang for? Then, you don't have to stress as there are several online slang dictionaries that can help you find these words. Alternatively, you can search the internet for the term, and you will find the French slang for it.
The more you can grasp this slang, the better you will interact with native French speakers in your region, school, or workplace.
Slang Words referring to jobs (and those who do them)
Ever been pulled over by the flics on your way to the toubib?
A “flic” is a bobby, a police officer. It’s attested since the turn of the 19th/20th century and its origin is unclear. It could be an onomatopeia referring to the tap-tap of a police baton on the cobbles, or is possibly derived from German “Fliege” (fly - ”mouche” is another French word for policeman).A “toubib” translates as “doctor”. Like several other argot words, this one comes from Arabic.
When learning about French history, you might have heard about the wars in Algeria. It took the French twenty years to conquer it, and its decolonisation was a bloody war that lasted eight years. Neither side has forgiven the other. On the other hand, French soldiers brought back many Arabic words, such as tabib for a doctor. Other words of Arabic slang came into the French language through North African immigrants.
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While we’re talking of professions, don’t forget “d’aller au boulot” (go to work) every day at your “boîte” (company).
Unless, of course, you are a “pute” (a word for a prostitute), in which case you probably don’t work in an office. It should be obvious that it’s generally a bad idea to call someone by that name.
French slang words for describing people
When you find a nice “mec”, he might be “balaise” (strong, muscled), but be careful that he’s not “dingue” (crazy). The word “dingue” applies to people and things - you might yell out “non mais il est dingue!” if you were cut off in traffic, for instance, or say of the special effects in the new Star Wars movie: “les effets spéciaux étaient dingues! Jean va flipper!”
Just hope that he’s not a “con” (or a “conne”, if it’s a woman). “Con” or “connard” is an insult that politely translates as “stupid idiot”, though there are some choice English slang words starting with “w” that might be a more accurate translation.
Some French Slang for Food
When you think of French culture, you think of food. Come on, you did, didn’t you? So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a number of French slang words and phrases centred around eating. Here’s a little culinary lesson for you:
When it’s been a few hours since you last ate, you can say “j’ais la dalle” (I am hungry).
Now, a “dalle” can be translated as a tile or flagstone, but in Old French the meaning was a gutter or gully; it soon designated the gully down which you throw your food. “Avoir la dalle” is short for an expression that hasn’t survived, perhaps “avoir la dalle vide” (have an empty gullet). You can also say “je crève la dalle”.
Once you’ve got your meal, you can “te goinfrer” on “la bouffe” - stuff yourself with grub:
When someone says you are “un goinfre”, they’re calling you a glutton. “J’ai beaucoup mangé” only implies quantity; “je me suis goinfré” implies speed and stuffing.
The meaning of “la bouffe” is “grub”, and as such doesn’t usually designate a five-star meal. But if you go to a Macdo (McDonald’s), you’re not just eating “bouffe”, you’re eating “mal-bouffe”, a term that was coined by the francophone media to designate fast food and just plain unhealthy food.
Of course, it’s not just food. France is well-known for its wine, and it’s easy to get too much of it. In colloquial French, you would be “bourré” (drunk), ou you could say that someone “se pique du nez”. You could also “être pêté”, “être pompette”, “être beurré comme un petit LU”, “être gris”, “être noir”… There are almost as many words in French idiom for being drunk as there are French wines.
The choice of food of a people is an essential component of their culture. To blend into any culture after learning their language, you must know and get used to their foods.
Like there are French slang used to refer to and interact with people, there are also French slang used to refer to food.
Walking into a French restaurant, you may hear someone say "j'ais la dalle" and may be wondering, what are these people saying? That's just slang that means "I am hungry." So, instead of wondering, why not just walk up to your friend one day and say "j'ais la dalle" and watch how impressed they will be.
Other French slangs around eating include:
"Te goinfrer" - stuff yourself with grub.
"Un goinfre" - a glutton.
"Je me suis goinfre" - speed and stuffing.
"Bourre" - drunk.
There is an endless list of French slang for foods and wines, and a little peeping into a French slang dictionary will help you discover a lot more.
French Slang Terms for Emotional States
If there’s one thing slang words are good for, it’s expressing frustration - and joy. There are a myriad of slang adjectives and adverbs for these cases - often, you can’t translate them directly, but you’ll generally know what they mean.
As humans, we are emotional beings, and at one point or the other, you will express these emotions or have people around you express them. The French language is filled with several slang that expresses emotions, both negative and positive.
Some French slangs that express a negative emotional state include:
"Faire gaffe" - Be careful.
"Ça fait chier" - It's annoying.
"Vas-t'en - Go away.
"Tu me fais chier!" - You're bugging me.
"J'en ai marre!" - I've had enough!
Some French slangs that express a positive emotional state include:
"C'est dar!" - It is great!
"C'est nickel!" - It is perfect!
"Je kiffe les roses" - I love roses.
"C'est ma fleur préféréé!" - They are my favorite flower.
All these are not all there is to the emotional states that we have; there are more. In your daily interactions with native French speakers, you can find out more of this slang, register them in your head, and use them from time to time.
Many times, these words may not sound appropriate, especially when you try to compare them with the formal language, but isn't that why they are slang?
Some French phrases for negative states
If you hear a French person say “ça fait chier”, you know they’re having one of those days. You should “faire gaffe”, be careful. “Ça fait chier” basically means “it’s annoying” - but with venom. You can also say “c’est chiant”, that phrase has the same meaning.
Vas-t’en, tu me fais chier! Go away, you’re bugging me.
C’est chiant d’avoir à aller à l’école. It’s annoying to have to go to school.
A bit stronger but with about the same meaning is “avoir le seum” - another of several French sayings that come from Arabic. It means to be annoyed or disgusted.
If you’ve had just about enough of anything and are really angry, you can say “J’en ai marre!” In standard English, you would say: “I’ve had enough!”
Positive French Expressions
American slang had some good expressions for liking things in the past - things rocked, were totally rad, sweet, awesome or just peachy. French slang also has words that express approval or appreciation:
- C’est super! It’s one of those words that can also be used as an adverb: c’est super beau!
- C’est dar! It’s great!
- C’est nickel! It’s impeccable, perfect. (Literally, it’s shiny - like the metal nickel).
- Kiffer: to appreciate, love - referring to either people or objects, depending on the context. For when “j’aime” just can’t quite express it. Je kiffe les roses, c’est ma fleur préférée! I love roses, they’re my favourite flower.
Learn How To Say Common Words Expressing Interest (Or Lack of It)
Plutôt que de s’emmerder, je préfère jaser avec mes copines. Pas comme toi et les autres gamins scotchés à la télé.
Rather than being bored, I’d rather chat with my friends. Not like you and the other kids glued to the telly.
Why the vulgar interjection “merde” (shit, crap) became the verb for being bored is unclear, but it does describe the feeling masterfully. The English language simply has no equivalent. And French kids are not glued to the telly, they’re taped to it - the expression “être scotché” comes from “le scotch” - Scotch tape. And yes, French has its own word for Scotch tape (”ruban adhésif”), but this is one of those pesky English words to have made it into the French language - next to “week-end”, “jogging” and “chewing-gum”.
By the way, “jaser”, “to chat” is derived from the caw of a crow or magpie…
Verlan: French Pig Latin - an Unusual French Slang
If you want to learn French jargon, you can’t escape “verlan”, the French version of “Pig Latin”. In verlan, words are reversed: the last syllable becomes the first; the first syllable becomes the last. During the inversion, the final E vowel of a word becomes a “eu”; verlan words usually begin with a consonant.
The word “verlan” is itself a word in verlan - it is the French word “(à) l’envers” (”in reverse”) in reverse: l’envers -> versl’en -> verlan.
Unlike pig latin, though, these words in verlan are frequently used in day-to-day speech:
- Cheum (inverted from “moche”) ugly. La maison là est trop cheum! That house there is so ugly!
- Ouf (from “fou”). Il traverse la rue sans regarder - il est complètement ouf! He doesn’t look both ways before crossing - he’s completely barmy! Note that simply being eccentric doesn’t make you “ouf” - the term is very derogatory.
- Une Meuf (femme)
- Un keum (kem, mec) Quand une meuf et un keum s’aiment, il n’y a rien à faire! When a bloke and a girl fall in love, there is nothing you can do!
- Reuch, (cher, expensive) Mon dieu, cette pomme est reuch! My god, this apple is expensive!
- Keuf (flic - see above) Attention, les keufs! Look out, the cops!
A newer trend is to pass words in verlan through the verlan again: you reverse the syllables once more. An example of such double-reversed word is “feum”, from “meuf” (see above), from “femme”.
Beware the term “reub”. It’s a widely used but offensive term to refer to someone of Arab descent. It’s a double-verlan: the word "arabe" became “beur” (another noun you shouldn’t use) which was re-reversed to “reub”.
As I am sure you’ve found, none of these are in your textbook. And while you can buy a slang dictionary or a thesaurus, there is nothing like spending time among native speakers for free French slang lessons - which have the added benefit of the French accent. As you immerse yourself in the French language, you will discover a great number of words that weren’t covered in your last French lesson. When you get back from your language immersion holiday, in addition to improving your French pronunciation, you can keep up with your colloquial French with a language exchange - teach a Frenchman (or woman) English while they talk to you in their mother tongue.
Merci et à bientôt!
Pig Latin is a term that is used to refer to some jargon in Latin. Every language seems to have some of such jargons, including English and French. For the French language, this jargon is known as verlan, an expression where words are reversed.
In your day-to-day interactions with people, you are going to come across these words, and some of them include:
"Cheum" (Moche) - ugly.
"Ouf" (fou) - crossing.
"Un keum" (kem, mec) - a bloke.
"Reuch" (Cher) - Expensive.
There is every certainty that you won't find many of the words that you've read here in your French textbook. You may not even be taught these slangs in your French lessons, even when you are learning French as a course in the university.
There are two major ways to learn French slang, and that's by surfing the internet or spending time with your friends who know and use this slang often.
Several French slang dictionaries can help you at any level learn this slang better. By surfing the internet, you can access these dictionaries and use them to learn these slangs, which will come in handy to impress your friends.
Alternatively, you can spend time with your friends that use this slang regularly. By doing so, you can pick these slangs quickly and also use them in your everyday conversation with them.
Follow the link to learn about the regional dialects of France.
Your knowledge of French slang has to flow from your understanding of the formal French language, and that is where registering for a French course in Canada is vital.
You can register for a French course or hire a private tutor from Superprof - a leading online learning platform. With these lessons or private tutors, you can move from a beginner to a professional French speaker!
Every lesson in Superprof is tailored to meet your learning needs. You will be learning at a pace and time that is convenient for you to grasp the French language. If you're hiring a private tutor, you can learn in your home online via Zoom or Skype.
If you want to take your learning to the next level, search for online French courses to find the most results on Superprof. Alternatively, why not consider french lessons online?
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