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Verlan (pronounced [vɛʁlɑ̃] ) is a type of argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words.[1]: 50  The word verlan itself is an example of verlan (making it an autological word). It is derived from inverting the sounds of the syllables in l'envers ([lɑ̃vɛʁ], "the inverse", frequently used in the sense of "back-to-front"). The first documented use of verlan dates back to the 19th century, among robbers.[2]

Word formation[edit]

Words in verlan are formed by switching the order in which syllables from the original word are pronounced. For example, français [fʁɑ̃sɛ] becomes céfran [sefʁɑ̃].

Verlan generally retains the pronunciation of the original syllables. However, French words that end in a ⟨e⟩ muet (such as femme [fam]) and words that end in a pronounced consonant (such as flic [flik]) gain the sound [œ] once reversed. In addition, verlan often drops the final vowel sound after the word is inverted, so femme and flic become meuf ([mœf]meufa in full form) and keuf ([kœf]keufli in full form), respectively.

The study of written verlan is difficult as it is primarily passed down orally, without standardized spelling. While some still argue that the letters should be held over from the original word, in the case of verlan, most experts agree that words should be spelled as to best approximate pronunciation. For example, verlan is preferred to versl'en. The French author Auguste Le Breton uses numerous examples of verlan, for instance in Du rififi chez les hommes.

Different rules apply for one-syllable words, and words with more than two syllables may be verlan-ised in more than one way. For example, cigarette may yield garetsi or retsiga.[3]


Some verlan words, such as meuf, have become so commonplace that they have been included in the Petit Larousse.[4] The purpose of verlan is to create a somewhat secret language that only its speakers can understand. Words becoming mainstream is counterproductive. As a result, such newly common words may be reversed a second time (see § Double verlan).

Some verlan words, which are now well incorporated in common French language, have taken on their own significance, or at least certain connotations that have changed their meaning.[5] For example, the word meuf, which can still be used to refer to any woman, also refers to the speaker's girlfriend when used in the possessive form (ma meuf → my girl); while the original word femme would refer to the speaker's wife when used in the same way (ma femme → my wife). Such words retain a cultural significance from the time at which they appeared in common language. Widespread in the second half of the 20th century, beur and beurette (from arabe) refer to people of northern African descent who live in France. The word rebeu (a double verlan) is much more recent, and evolved to refer more generally to people of Arab descent who live in France.

In theory, any word can be made into a verlan, but only a few expressions are used in everyday speech. Verbs translated into verlan cannot be conjugated easily. There is no such thing as a verlan grammar, so generally verbs are used in the infinitive, past participle or progressive form. For example:

  • J'étais en train de pécho une bebon[6] ("I was hitting on a hot chick") is said, but not je pécho[ais].

Here are some examples of French words that have been made into a verlan and their English meanings:[7]

French Verlan English
bande deban group
bête teubé stupid
bizarre zarbi weird
black (Eng.) kebla dark-skinned, (African/black) person
bloqué kéblo blocked
bonjour jourbon hello
câble bleca fuse (as in "to blow a fuse")
classe secla class
clope peuclot cigarette
branché chébran trendy
monde demon crowd
disque skeud album
fais chier fais iech it makes one angry
femme meuf woman
flic keuf cop
fou ouf crazy
futur turfu future (exclusively meaning trendy or state-of-the-art)
français céfran French
jobard barjot crazy
l'envers verlan reverse
louche chelou shady or weird
lourd relou irritating or unbearable
merci cimer thanks
mère reum mother
métro tromé subway
musique zicmu music
père reup father
piscine cinepi pool (swimming)
poulet lepou chicken (similar to "pig" in English; for police officer)
pourri ripou rotten (cop)
rap pera rap (music)
truc keutru stuff
vas-y zyva go for it
speed (Eng.) deuspi quick
moi oim me
laisse tomber laisse béton give up

Double verlan[edit]

Creating verlans often brings up words that are verlan of a verlan. This is sometimes called double verlan or veul. One can find the order of the consonants of the original word, but the vowels have been modified.

For example, meuf (verlan of femme) becomes feumeu. The verlan word beur, derived from arabe, has been made into rebeu.[3][5]

Cultural significance[edit]

Verlan is less a language than a way to set apart certain words.[3] Many verlan words refer either to sex or drugs, related to the original purpose of keeping communication secret from institutions of social control. Verlan is generally limited to one or two key words per sentence. Verlan words and expressions are mixed within a more general argotique language.

Verlan is used by people to mark their membership in, or exclusion from, a particular group (generally young people in the cities and banlieues, although some French upper-class youth have also started using it as their slang); it is a tool for marking and delineating group identity.[3] Speakers rarely create a verlan word on the fly; rather, their ability to use and understand words from an accepted set of known verlan terms allows them to be identified as part of a verlan-speaking group. Lefkowitz claims that the best speakers of the language are often the worst students, those most needing to hide from authority.[1]: 61 

Some verlan words have gained mainstream currency. Examples of verlan in cultural mainstream include the 1984 comedy Les Ripoux (My New Partner) (ripou is verlan for pourri, or rotten, and refers to a corrupt policeman); and the 1977 hit "Laisse béton" by singer Renaud (béton is verlan for tomber and the phrase means "drop it").

Verlan is popular as a form of expression in French hip-hop.[8] Artists claim that it fits well with the musical medium because "form ranks way over substance".[9]

The stage name of Belgian pop artist and songwriter Stromae (real name Paul Van Haver) is verlan for maestro.[10]

Voltaire, the nom-de-plume of François-Marie Arouet, is possibly a verlan word for Airvault.

The French language movie poster for the 2023 American film Barbie contains a line that has been interpreted as verlan: "Elle peut tout faire. Lui, c'est juste Ken", "She can do everything. He’s just Ken". By referring to the character Ken, which is a verlan phonological inversion of nique, a profane slang term for sex, aloud, it sounds like "Lui sait juste ken," meaning "he only knows how to fuck." Warner Bros. refused to confirm or deny whether the profane double entendre was intentional but appreciated the added publicity that the poster generated.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lefkowitz, Natalie (1991). Talking Backwards, Looking Forwards: The French Language Game Verlan. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 3823340735.
  2. ^ Stille, Alexander (2002-08-17). "Backward Runs French. Reels the Mind". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-01-22.
  3. ^ a b c d Valdman, Albert (2000). "La Langue des faubourgs et des banlieues: de l'argot au français populaire". The French Review (in French). 73 (6).
  4. ^ See the Petit Larousse itself. These words are also given on the Larousse website: keuf meuf ripou
  5. ^ a b Lefkowitz, Natalie J (1989). "Verlan: talking backwards in French". The French Review. 63 (2).
  6. ^ "Définition de bebon". dictionnairedelazone.fr (in French).
  7. ^ Davis, J.J. (Autumn 2004). "Autumn, 2004, Vol. 29 Issue 3, p7, 2 p". Verbatim. 29: 7.
  8. ^ Rosen, Jody (10 November 2005). "David Brooks, Playa Hater". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
  9. ^ St. Alse, Yaka (21 January 2005). "Notes to 'Wardsback'". Open Brackets: Lost in Translation. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
  10. ^ Sayare, Scott (10 October 2013). "Stromae: Disillusion, With a Dance Beat". New York Times.
  11. ^ Roxborough, Scott (2023-06-22). "Warner Bros. Knew Exactly What It Was Doing With That Racy French 'Barbie' Poster — Here's Why". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-07-26.

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