Learn to speak like the lo­cals and throw some slang into your con­ver­sa­tions

Living France - - Lifestyle -

While many have pon­dered what makes France so unique, au­thor Alex Quick has given form to his thoughts with his take on the topic in How to be French, co-au­thored with Cyn Bataille. Here in the fi­nal in­stall­ment of a three-part se­ries, he ex­am­ines the use of the French lan­guage from slang to ab­bre­vi­a­tions.


In French, slang is known as ar­got. Of course, we have this word in English too, where it may some­times be pro­nounced with a hard ‘t’. In English, ‘ar­got’ means any spe­cial­ized lan­guage, slang or oth­er­wise – so we can re­fer, for in­stance, to the ar­got of so­cio-philoso­phers or book­binders. In France ar­got just means slang.

Ver­lan (back­slang) is a di­vi­sion of ar­got. So is louchébem, which orig­i­nated among French butch­ers and made its way into gen­eral par­lance. In louchébem, ev­ery­thing be­gins with the let­ter ‘l’, and you form words by in­vert­ing ex­ist­ing words and adding end-syl­la­bles: so, for ex­am­ple, garçon is larçonguesse, mon­sieur is lesieur­mique, and café is lafé­caisse.

As al­ways and every­where, the pur­pose of ar­got is not merely lin­guis­tic in­ven­tive­ness but con­ceal­ment. Chil­dren, pris­on­ers, thieves, etc, wish to hide in­for­ma­tion from par­ents, warders, the po­lice, etc. So ar­got be­gins on the streets and works its way up. The sur­prise in France is quite how far it works its way up. On the grounds of gen­eral égal­ité, ev­ery­one in France wants to have a share in the ca­chet of ar­got, and ev­ery­one uses it, in­clud­ing the so­cial elite, busi­ness lead­ers, politi­cians and so on. So one might hear a cab­i­net min­is­ter say­ing: C’est chou­ette, cette boum! – This party’s a blast! Je ne peux pas le blairer! – I can’t stick him! Je com­mence à avoir les crocs, moi – I’m get­ting peck­ish. J’ai be­soin de m’en jeter un der­rière la cra­vate – I need a drink.

Thus the streets are kept peren­ni­ally busy in­vent­ing new terms to con­found oth­ers.

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