“Verlan” Or French Backwards Slang Explained

“T’ema le virage!” one of the characters in the famous French film La Haine screams to his wildly driving friend.

You watch, and you think, “I’ve taken French for the last six years, why don’t I know what that expression means? It sounds like French, but is it really?” The answer is yes — sort of. “T’ema” is an inversion of “mater” the verb “to look,” and is a form of the French slang style of verlanVerlan is a kind of French pig latin with written origins dating back a few hundred years. The verbal origins (more like the spoken verlan we know today) didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1970s when the form was revived in the banlieues of Paris by young people from lower income brackets, primarily of Arab descent. The Arabic language doesn’t have many vowels, so verlan could be employed to remove some of the vowel sounds (e.g., “femme” became “meuf”).

Many verlanized words are in common use in France today, and it can be helpful to understand how the form works to get a hang of French street slang. This video by Langfocus does an excellent job of explaining the style, so check it out to learn some of the most commonly used terms and how they came about!