Contrarily to written French, spoken French evolves all the time. If the French grammar and most of the vocabulary evolve quite slowly, common expressions and slang change fast.
I was lucky to meet Charlie of StreetFrench.org in Paris last November: although Charlie is American, his French is excellent. At 34, Charlie speaks a “younger” French than I do (I’m 51 as I write this article).
We started to compare the slang we use to talk about a number of things, and I then had the same conversation with my daughter Leyla, who’s just turn 18. We had quite a laugh as she shared with me what people her age may say.
Interestingly enough, the three of us share a lot of common French slang expressions, often based on verlan. Yet, we also use expressions that the other age group wouldn’t use.
So, here you have it: in this article, I’ll recap the conversations we had, list many examples of French expressions and tell you what each generation may/ may not use, and share some unusual tips about learning French.
I also suggest you listen to the video Charlie and I made on this subject. It’s in French and comes with French subtitles (turn on the CC option).
So let’s dig in:
French Slang Evolution
You are probably familiar with the timeless French slang word “une meuf”.
It’s verlan: a spoken slang consisting of inverting the syllables of a word, in this case “une femme” (even though for “meuf” the pronunciation is also a bit twisted).
“Meuf” can also mean girlfriend when used with a possessive adjective “ma meuf”.
Although not verlan, the male equivalent is “un mec” for “un homme”.
Both “mec” and “meuf” are super common slang and would be used by Leyla, Charlie and I.
But not exactly in the same way:
I, at 51, would use “meuf” (or “mec”) to describe/ talk about someone : “tu as vu cette meuf avec la robe verte ?” (did you see this girl/gal with the green dress?).
Charlie (34) and Leyla (18) would use like I do, but also it address someone : “hey, meuf, tu fais quoi ?” (hey, girl, what are you doing?).
I would never say that. It would sound ridiculous in my mouth.
Now, Leyla may use the new slang expression “une go”. I would never, ever use this… way too young for me! Actually, the first time I heard it I couldn’t even understand it…
This is why it’s so important to learn French with a method that covers timeless slang and vocabulary – or explains the context, like I do in my French audiobook method. But I digress… I’ll talk more about how to choose your learning method below. In the meanwhile, here are other examples of French slang expressions – and how they are used by different generations.
A new approach to learning both traditional and modern French logically structured for English speakers.
7 Examples of French slang Expressions Used By Different Generations
Evolution of ‘I’m Annoyed’ in French Slang
To say ‘I’m annoyed’, I would use mostly use a traditional expression : “je suis enervé(e)”. If the context was right, I could use a slang expression : “j’ai les nerfs”.
Leyla and Charlie would say: “je suis vénère” (verlan). And Leyla may even say “j’ai le seum”. That’s definitely not my generation!
‘I’m Stressed Out’
I would say : “je suis stressée” or “je suis tendue”.
Leyla would say : “ça me crispe !”
We would all say: “c’est super cool”, “c’est génial !”
Now the younger generations – Charlie included – may use an expression which comes from our French Canadian friends : “c’est le fun”.
Charlie and I would say : “laisse tomber !” You may be familiar with the verlan expression “laisse béton”… but it’s not really used anymore.
Leyla’s generation would say : “Lâche l’affaire !” – again, a Canadian influence there.
“I’m so happy”
We would all say : “je suis trop content(e)”
Leyla’s generation may say : “j’ai la joie”. I wouldn’t say that, it would sound weird in my mouth.
“You got what you deserved”
Charlie and I would say : “bien fait pour toi !”
Leyla’s generation may say : “Cheh !”. It comes from Arabic, like “je kiffe” used to say you like something or someone.
To talk about my father, I would say “mon papa” or “mon père”.
The younger generation, Leyla’s age, may say “mon daron” or “mon paternel”. In the video, Charlie told me he wouldn’t use it either, but hears it quite often.
What’s funny about this new French expression “daron” is a very, very old French word (18th century!) that recently reappeared in younger slang!
Which brings me to a word of advise.
Beware of older slang
Usually, slang doesn’t age well!
To say “un chien”, I often use “un clebs”. Leyla laughed and said she’d never say that! It’s actually pretty common slang, but dates back from WW1! Here’s more about WW1 French slang.
I’ve heard students use “une pépé” to say “une femme”… this is something my grandfather may have said!
It sounds like saying “swell” in English…
Let me tell you a story about ‘swell’… I learned this word reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and used it with my friends back when I lived in Boston…. My friend Kane asked me: ‘how was your day?’ and I answered: ‘swell!’
He burst on laughing so hard he spilled his drink.
I was so embarrassed!
This is why you have to be careful when learning slang… Or any French vocabulary for that matter. Are you learning the French you really need to know? Is what you’re learning timeless? Age appropriate? You don’t want to sound like a teenager… And if you’re a teen, you may not want to sound too formal either…
This brings me to my next point…
Researching Your French Learning Method
As Charlie and I discuss in part of the video below, it’s important for students to research the French method they want to study with.
Some people absolutely need to learn formal French, to pass exam, or as a solid basis. Knowing formal French is always a good idea, since French people tend to value an educated way of speaking… In other words, it will look pretty bad if you were to use slang and very informal French in the wrong context. On the other hand, if you are formal in an informal situation… you will look a bit stuck up… but people would understand.
For younger people who just want to communicate during a trip to France… well let’s say that mastering the French subjunctive may not be their priority! Knowing some informal way of communicating and younger slang may help them fit in.
Learning from many sources in optimal, yet I’d like to give you a word of warning there: I’ve help thousands of people learn French: many of them concentrated on studying what they enjoyed studying, not what they needed to study. Some people spent countless hours studying slang… when they really needed to increase their everyday vocabulary. Surprisingly, I also witnessed many students being obsessed with mastering the subjunctive… when they still struggled in choosing between passé-composé and imparfait.
Nowadays, YouTube, Instagram, even Tik-tok have exploded with fun, bite-size French videos. Fun for sure. Not really harmful. But also time consuming.
And most people have limited time to study… So, it’s Ok to relax. But you also need to study with a structured French learning method which will guide you through your French studies. It’s essential that this method fit your goals : make sure you first check the style of the teacher, his/her voice, accent, and global approach to French. Does the method cover both formal and informal French? What about the pronunciation? Is-it structured enough for you? Will it teach you the right kind of vocabulary?
Do take the time to listen to the audio samples, to read the table of content, the customer feedbacks…
The right choice is always an informed choice.
Ok, now, I’ll let you enjoy the video: you’ll hear more examples of French slang expressions which clashes between generations, and then Charlie and I also talk about why French people answer in English to English-speakers, when and where to go in France to practice your French and more…
How French Slang Has Evolved – Video
This video is mostly in French – you may turn the French subtitles by using the YouTube gear and CC options.
Do you use French slang? What’s your favorite expression?
If you’d like to check whether the slang expressions you love are still used today, leave a comment below and ask me!