Verlan (French pronunciation: [vɛʁlɑ̃]) is an argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It is argued that the best known speakers of the language are some of the worst students in French or Parisians schools[1] It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words.[2] The name verlan is an example: 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").

General characteristics and structure

Word formation

For examples of verlan words, see the Verlan category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

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

Verlan generally retains the pronunciation of the original syllables. In particular, French words that end in a ⟨e⟩ muet (such as femme) and words that end in a pronounced consonant and which usually have an ⟨e⟩ muet added at the end (such as flic) retain the sound of the ⟨e⟩ muet in verlan. In addition, verlan often drops the final vowel sound after the word is inverted, so femme and flic become meuf and keuf, respectively.

Different rules apply for one-syllable words, and words with multiple syllables may be verlanised 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] and a doubly "verlanised" version was rendered necessary, so the singly verlanised meuf became feumeu; similarly, the verlan word beur, derived from arabe, has become accepted into popular culture such that it has been re-verlanised to yield rebeu.[3][5]

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.[6] 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. Widely spread in the second half of the 20th century, beur generally refers to first-generation immigrants from northern Africa in France. The re-verlanised word rebeu is much more recent, and is used to refer rather to second-generation Arab immigrants in France, and their social attitude.

In theory, any word can be translated into 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:


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. 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.

Cultural significance

Verlan is less a language than a way to set apart certain words.[7] 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.[7] 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.

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]

Other languages

Similar manners of speaking, such as Cockney rhyming slang, Pig Latin or "backslang", are used in English-speaking cultures (see Language game). A form of slang very similar to verlan is occasionally used in Greek and is called "podaná", itself an inverted form of "anápoda" (i.e. backwards or "wrong way round"); it usually involves words that are already slang by themselves. Examples of podaná include tsosbá (inverted bátsos, slang for "cop"), zakipré (inverted prezáki, slang for "junkie"), dafoú (inverted foúnda, "hashish"), fosbá (inverted báfos, "joint") etc. Verlan is also very similar, if not identical, to the slang often used in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia in the Serbo-Croat languages and Macedonian. This slang, "šatrovački" and sometimes labeled as the 8th case, is popular among the youth in especially Belgrade and Sarajevo. In the Buenos Aires slang lunfardo verlan-style words are often used, for example feca instead of café.

See also

Examples of slang (cross-linguistic)


  1. Lefkowitz, Natalie (1991-01-01). Talking Backwards, Looking Forwards: The French Language Game Verlan. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 9783823340737.
  2. Lefkowitz, Natalie (1991). Talking Backwards, Looking Forwards: The French Language Game Verlan. Gunter Narr Verlag. pp. 50–51. ISBN 3823340735.
  3. 1 2 Valdman 2000, p. 1188.
  4. See the Petit Larousse itself. These words are also given on the Larousse website: keuf meuf ripou
  5. Lefkowitz 1989, pp. 319320.
  6. Lefkowitz 1989, p. 320.
  7. 1 2 Valdman 2000, p. 1189.
  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. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 21, 2006. Retrieved September 9, 2005.


External links

Look up verlan in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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