Meet Argots and Verlan

Do you recall the last time we use coded language with our peers?

I remember using ‘the g-code’ during my elementary school years. The rule goes like this: “add -g(a/i/u/e/o) to each syllable in your sentence”. Thus, “Eh, cowok itu ganteng banget,” would be “Egeh, cogowogok igitugu gagantegeng bagangeget.” The basic idea is to prevent outsiders from understanding our conversation, and this coded language was quite practical until more and more people know about it and making it unclassified enough to actually be called a ‘code’.

The Roman armies did it better. They use Caesar’s Chipher and wrote down sentences that can only be decoded by this cipher. For example, if you set the code to +3, then:

  • A = D | O = R
  • C = F | R = U
  • E = H | S = V
  • H = K | W = Z
  • L = O | Y = B
  • N = Q

So the sentence “Why wheels won cars?” is going to be written as “Zkb zkhhov zrq fduv?” making the non-intended receiver of the message who doesn’t udnerstand cryptography wouldn’t be able to read your message.


These codes are called argot in French. Here goes the most interesting part: today’s French youths also use argot in their everyday language through transposing syllables of individual words to create new slang words, and they name the code as verlan. In other words, verlan features inversion of syllables of a word formed by switching the order in which syllables from the original word are pronounced. For example, français becomes cèfran.

I find this fact very interestingly new, because I thought French only provides extra vocabularies for romantic lines. I did not expect French to have certain ‘style of language’ that is used by their teenagers like verlan.

Just as the information is not interesting enough, the word verlan itself apparently is a verlan from l’envers (lan-ver), meaning “the inverse”. Exactly like the fact that ‘portmanteau’ was a portmanteau of porte and manteau.

The pronunciation of a verlan generally retains the pronunciation of the original syllables with exception for one-syllable-words (poor thy). There are also words that can be verlan-ised in more than one way, like cigarette which yields both retsiga or garetsi.

So, have you met Argots and Verlan? You can go here for more information on verlan.


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