A break from book and writing related posts today. I thought I’d take a quick look at French slang. Now the kids are back at school, we’ll be hearing a lot more of it in the house.

There are certain rules for making up French slang. It’s known as verlan. It changes existing French words into new ones by switching around the syllables, or reading them backwards. French for ‘backwards’ is ‘envers’, and that’s where ‘verlan’ comes from, with an ‘l’ added in the middle. The spelling can be changed a little to reflect the pronunciation.

There are a few different ways to make verlan. When a word has two or three syllables, the second one is put first. For example, ‘bizarre’ becomes ‘zarbi’ and ‘cigarette’ becomes ‘garetci’. On that basis, using examples from our farm, ‘llama’ would be ‘mala’, and ‘alpaca’ would be ‘calpa’.

For a one syllable word, there’s a bit more cunning involved. If a word has a silent ‘e’ at the end of it, as in ‘moche’ (ugly), then you pronounce it before you make up your verlan word. So ‘poule’ becomes ‘lepou’. If the word doesn’t end with a silent e, then you add one. ‘Foot’ (football) turns into ‘tefoo’.

It starts to get very complicated after that. If a verlan word ends in a vowel, that’s usually cut off, for example. And there’s also reverlanisation, double verlanisation and incomplete vernalisation. I think a grasp of the basics is enough for now!

I got interested in verlan after hearing my kids come out with words like ‘rempas’ (= parents) and ‘béton’ (= tomber, as in ‘laisse tomber’, forget about it). I dug around and found out about it.

(If you’re interested in slang and less mainstream French in general then you should get a Kindle version of Talk Dirty French by Alexis Munier and Emmanuel Tichelli. Very informative!)


Now they're nice!

Nice is a maligned word. Every teacher tells kids not to use it, so you tend to grow up with a paranoid dread of ever employing it. But it’s a nice word. I’m always grateful when someone says “have a nice day” to me, or “you like nice” (it actually happens sometimes!), and I feel good if I say something nice to a friend, or a stranger, or a nice thing happens. We all want niceness in our lives.

Nice is nice.

And that looks nice ...

Nice means pleasing and agreeable, pleasant and attractive, courteous and polite, respectability. All things that make life better. And it’s a word we use a lot every day, like (I hope) please and thank you. No-one has ever complained that we say those too often!

Of course, you don’t want to overuse it in your writing, but you can use it. It’s colloquial, modern and meaningful. Leave it in your vocabulary.

But if you have nice appearing too often, here are 25 synonyms to choose from: agreeable, amiable, attractive, benign, charming, commendable, congenial, considerate, delightful, enjoyable, fair, favourable, friendly, genial, good, gracious, helpful, kind,  lovely, mega, personable, pleasant, pleasing, super, tasteful.