Friday, April 7, 2017

Verlan (French Slang) And The Use Of The Word "Kiffe" By French Speaking People

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series about the use of Verlan language as well as the word "kiff", and other North African originated slang words by French speaking people.

This post provides general information about Verlan language and the use of the word "kiff" and some of its forms by French speaking people.

Click for Part II of this post. Part II showcases three songs from Seychelles, East Africa by the singer Tania. Selected comments from those YouTube videos' discussion threads are also presented in this post, with special attention to comments that include the word "kiff".

This post is presented for linguistic and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These excerpts are presented in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.

Excerpt #1
Really there is no such thing as a language called, “African French”. The term is used to categorise the varieties of the language spoken in Africa. The language was of course brought by the French on colonial pursuits. Some 120 million people across Africa speak French in some way. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie estimates there will be 700 million French speakers in the world by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa....

Those nations using French are known as ‘francophone’ African countries. Across Africa, French is more often than not spoken alongside a local, indigenous language, such as Arabic in Morocco or Wolof in Senegal. In some places it has become a dominant first language, such as in the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Libreville, Gabon. In some countries, such as Tunisia and Algeria, French is used by the intellectual and political classes.

African French can be broadly broken down into 5 types:

• West & Central – spoken in countries such as Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, DRC.
• Maghribi – French used in Arab North Africa such as in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
• Djibouti – east Africa’s sole French speaker, Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
• Indian Ocean – specific to Réunion, Mauritius, and Seychelle.
• Creole – some define them as a “French”, others not, but French mixed with local languages is widespread across the francophone countries.


One variant of African French in particular readers should be aware of is Français Populaire Africain (Popular African French) or FPA. It began as something of a “ghetto language” originally out of Ivory Coast; it spread through universities, film, dance and drama across borders. Over the years it gained acceptance. It is spoken in the urban sprawls of sub-Saharan African, especially in cities such as Abidjan (Ivory Coast); Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Dakar (Senegal) Cotonou (Benin) and Lomé (Togo).”…
This article includes a map showing Francophone countries in Africa.

DRC = Democratic Republic Of The Congo )Congo Kinshasa, formerly known as "Zaire"
Update: March 27, 2018
For some reason, that article didn't mention Burkina Faso in its list of West African nations that speak French.
"Burkina Faso ... is a landlocked country in West Africa. It covers an area of around 274,200 square kilometres (105,900 sq mi) and is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north; Niger to the east; Benin to the southeast; Togo and Ghana to the south; and Ivory Coast to the southwest. Its capital is Ouagadougou. In 2014 its population was estimated at just over 17.3 million.[8] Burkina Faso is a francophone country, with French as an official language of government and business. Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta (1958–1984), the country was renamed "Burkina Faso" on 4 August 1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara. Its citizens are known as Burkinabé (/bɜːrˈkiːnəbeɪ/ bur-KEE-nə-beh)."...

Excerpt #2
"Verlan ... is an 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.[2] The name verlan is an example: it is derived from inverting the sounds of the syllables in l'envers …, "the inverse", frequently used in the sense of "back-to-front".


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 French word "banlieues" means "suburbs".

The French word "tomber" means "to fall".
Excerpt #3 Verlan - French Slang; French Slang à l'envers by Laura K. Lawless
Updated October 02, 2016
"Verlan is a form of French slang that consists of playing around with syllables, kind of along the same lines as pig Latin. Unlike pig Latin, however, verlan is actively spoken in France. Many verlan words have become so commonplace that they are used in everyday French.

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.

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.


[Some] Examples*:
un kebla verlan of un Black (from English)
meaning: black person

un keuf (now feuk) verlan of un flic
meaning: police officer (equivalent to cop, copper, pig)

une tof verlan of une photo
meaning: photograph

un reup verlan of un père
meaning: father

une zesgon verlan of une gonzesse
meaning: girl, chick

une teuf verlan of une fête
meaning: party

un sub verlan of un bus
meaning: bus
*Other Verlan examples were given. I selected these examples for no particular reason.

Click for information about "Pig Latin". Here's an excerpt from that page:
"Pig Latin is a language game in which words in English are altered. The objective is to conceal the words from others not familiar with the rules. The reference to Latin is a deliberate misnomer, as it is simply a form of jargon, used only for its English connotations as a strange and foreign-sounding language.

Early mentions of pig Latin or hog Latin describe what we would today call dog Latin, a type of parody Latin. Examples of this predate even Shakespeare, whose 1598 play, Love's Labour's Lost, includes a reference to dog Latin"...

Excerpt #4
"Je Kiffe French! How to Become Almost Fluent" By Tim Murphy, May 29, 2014
..."I'm also fascinated by le verlan, the slang, invented by French-Arab youth, consisting of simply reversing words, as in Pig Latin, which has caught on in the general French culture. It’s well worth learning because you will hear it everywhere, particularly among younger Parisians of all stripes.

It was first used by French youth of color to not be understood by the police or their parents, and it widely came to France's attention with the celebrated 1995 banlieue drama La Haine. Since then, it's often used by white French people just to show they're cool and chébran, which is verlan for branché, meaning trendy and plugged-in. It's also constantly evolving and is ubiquitous in French hip-hop.

Here is a fairly comprehensive glossary of verlan*. But the words you should definitely know if you want to understand contemporary French are:

meuf: reverse of femme, meaning woman

keum: reverse of mec, meaning guy

chanmé: reverse of méchant, which literally means evil or wicked, but also means cool or awesome

relou: reverse of lourd, meaning literally heavy but really meaning difficult or a pain in the ass

céfran: reverse of français, meaning French

beur: reverse of arabe, meaning Arab

ziva: reverse of vas-y, meaning Come on!


A few terms that technically aren't verlan but that you must know to be cool:

franchement: literally frankly, but cool kids use it as a sentence starter or ender to add emphasis

je kiffe: from an Arabic word, but in this case generally used to mean "like," as in "Franchement, je kif cette meuf."

ça déchire: literally "that tears." Means something is really cool. "Ca déchire, ca, cette nouvelle tube de Daft Punk." (That's awesome, that new Daft Punk song.)

That should hold you in good stead for now. A tobien, les paincos! (That's verlan for "See you later, buds!" Or the reverse of "A bientôt, les copains!")
* given as a hyperlink for

Excerpt #5

"kiffe" is used in French as a verb (kiffer, in english to kiffe), as an adjective (kiffant, in english kiffable) and as a noun (kiffe, a kiffe)... or just use it how you want to!

Kiffe comes from an arab word (kef) which means to like, to enjoy, a pleasure... which has been "imported" into France by North African people... and became "kiffe".
It simply means "to really enjoy someone or something!"

e.g: I kiffed that trip!
I would kiffe to meet her;
She really is kiffable
What a kiffe to drive that car!

Because it comes from some sort of French suburb slang (langage des cités), but is now used by everyone (though it is still 'slangish'), you can use it how you want to!

If anyone was wondering how to pronounce it, it sounds the same in english say "keef", like a reef but with a "k" instead!”


-by KSC-ONE April 02, 2009

Excerpt #6:
From 20 Arabic words that are now French slang
North African words have been popularized by hip-hop. By Alya Kay, 2016-11-24

[Pancocojams Editor's Note: This article includes video clips of these words being pronounced]

"Much of modern French slang comes from the influence of North African Arabic spoken in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Some of this slang is even used among families and friends outside the big French cities, thanks to the spread of hip-hop culture.

Disclaimer: these Arabic words are not used in their literal meaning, but rather as a French “interpretation."

1. Wesh
It comes from slang Algerian “esh” meaning “what’s going on." It's used as the equivalent of “wadup?” or “yo."

2. Kiffer
From the word “kif” in Arabic, literarily meaning “to enjoy." This is the same as “digging” something in English slang.

3. Le kif
This is almost the same as "kiffer," only that it’s a noun. It can be used similarly to “dope" in English slang.

15. Khouya
This literally means “my brother” or “bro”.

20. Chouf
It means “look” in Arabic and it is quite widespread in French slang vocabulary.
Update: March 27, 2018
In English slang [meaning African American originated Vernacular English] "dope" means something that is or someone who is "very good" (i.e. "cool", "hip", "the bomb", "hot" [in this context this term doesn't necessarily have any sexual connotations] "fire", "lit" etc.)

Excerpt #7
From French slang Arabesque

The langue de Molière gets a north African infusion

Aug 13th 2015
"With a bright “Wesh meuf!” a French teenager hails a friend in slang that would appal linguistic purists. It is the sort of counter-cultural vernacular usually heard on the concrete estates of the outer-city banlieues, where French youngsters of Arab and African descent have long devised an alternative lexicon. But this greeting comes from a white middle-class girl in a posh high school near Paris. Is mainstream French, whose guardians have traditionally fought contamination, embracing more playful disruption than the purists like to think?

The word wesh, from Wach rak? (How are you?) in an Algerian dialect of Arabic, has crossed into mainstream youth culture in all but the snootiest corners of urban France. Meuf is a common word in verlan, the French backwards slang that spread in the banlieues in the 1970s and 1980s and which inverts syllables: it upends femme, French for woman. Plenty of other banlieue terms based on Arabic have edged towards the mainstream too, often via rap music, hip-hop or cinema, such as kiffer (to like or love, from kif, the Arabic word for cannabis). This word features in the title of a French novel, “Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow”, by Faïza Guène. The French embassy even ran a cultural festival in New York entitled “I kiffe NY”.

Some words have become so firmly established in mainstream French (avoir la baraka, or to be lucky, from the Arabic for benediction) that they are considered passé by today’s youth. More contemporary street slang includes avoir le seum (to be annoyed, from the Arabic for poison). Other terms have yet to cross over from the banlieue, their incomprehensibility part of their angry charm.”...

This concludes Part I of this two part pancocojams series.

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