Fit in Like a Local: 15 French Slang Words and Expressions You Won’t Find in Any Travel Dictionary

This is a guest post by the wonderful Brooke Neuman, a French editor at TakeLessons an online marketplace for local and online lessons. Since 2006, TakeLessons has been connecting knowledgeable teachers with eager students in any subject that comes to mind, from academic tutoring to culinary classes to computer skills to languages. We hope you learn a thing or two from her post and walk away feeling just a bit more French. C’est parti!


Almost every language has slang words and expressions that are used in everyday conversation. In the U.S., for example, we use phrases like “what’s up,” “shoot the breeze,” and “take a rain check.”

French is no different.

French locals and native speakers use many slang words and expressions that you won’t find in any textbook or travel guide.

Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up the 15 most common French words and expressions to help you fit in like a local.

 

  1. Kiffer (to like very much)

Kiffer” means to like very much. The word adds a little bit of extra spark or pizazz that “aimer” just doesn’t have on its own—at least not in most contexts. For example, you could say “Je kiffe cette voiture rouge” or “That red car is (likably) cool!”

 

  1. Relou (annoying)

Much slang in French comes from what’s referred to as “verlan.” This is a form of slang in which the letters or syllables of a word are reversed. The word “relou” is created when “lourd” (meaning heavy) is inverted. In many cases, something that is annoying may indeed create a heavy psychological burden while it lasts.

 

  1. La Vache! (oh my god!)

This French expression is the equivalent of the American phrase “oh my god!” or “holy cow!” Pronounced as “la vahsh,” this common phrase can be used to express a range of emotions, such as surprise, amazement, or anger.   

 

  1. Ouf (phew/crazy)

The word “ouf” can be used two ways. The first definition comes from the verlan transposition of “fou,” meaning “crazy.” For example, someone could say “un truc de ouf” or “c’est un truc de ouf” to describe something as crazy or unbelievable. You can also use “ouf” when you want to express relief, which is similar to the word “phew” in English.

 

  1. Je m’en fiche! (I couldn’t care less!)

When you get frustrated with someone or something, use the French expression “Je m’en fiche!” This expression can be likened to the American phrase, “I couldn’t care less” or “I don’t care.” If you want to avoid swearing, use this strong phrase to get your point across.

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  1. Gars (guys/everyone)

If you want to address a group informally, use the word “gars.”  For example, “Eh, les gars, on fait quoi ce soir?” which translates to “So, guys what are we doing tonight?” The word can also be used in other contexts.

 

  1. Ca déchire (that’s awesome)

In French, the verb “déchirer” literally means to “rip” or “tear.” When used as, “Ca déchire,” the phrase means “it rocks” or “that’s awesome.” Think about it; if something is cool enough to rip, it must be pretty great.

 

  1. Laisse tomber (let it go/never mind)

Chances are there are going to be times when you’re attempting to tell a story or explain a situation and the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand what you’re saying. When this happens, simply say “laisse tomber,” which is the English equivalent of “never mind.”

 

  1. Boire comme un trou (drink like a hole)

Have a friend that enjoys one too many glasses of wine? The French expression, “Boire comme un trou,” which literally translates to “drink like a hole,” is used to describe someone who likes to drink a lot. Only use this phrase jokingly, as you don’t want to mistakenly offend anyone.

 

  1. Coûter les yeux de la tête (costs an arm and a leg)

If you want to say that something is widely expensive, use the phrase “Coûter les yeux de la tête.” The phrase—which translates to “costs the eyes in your head”—is similar to the English phrase, “costs an arm and a leg.”

 

  1. Trop stylé (really cool/good-looking)

This French expression is used to describe something that’s cool or looks good. It’s typically used when talking about clothes, décor, or art. For example, someone’s outfit can be described as “trop stylé.”

 

  1. Faire gaffe (pay attention) faire une gaffe (make a mistake)

Be careful when placing the article in these phrases, since both are informal expressions that have different meanings! For instance, “J’ai fait une gaffe” means “I made a mistake,” whereas “Fais gaffe! Il y a quelqu’un derriere toi!” translates to “Watch out! There’s someone behind you.”

 

  1. C’est Parti! (let’s go!)

The equivalent of the English phrase, “Let’s go!,” use this French expression when you want someone to hurry up or before you begin a task.

 

  1. Chelou (weird/bizarre)

Typically used by the younger generation, “chelou” is derived from the word “louche.” Use this word when you want to describe something as strange or off.  

 

  1. Santé! (cheers)

When out to dinner with friends, raise your glass and say “Santé.” This word—which wishes well upon people’s health— is the equivalent of the English word cheers.

This is just a sampling of some of the French expressions and words you might overhear French natives and locals using during casual conversations. Have fun trying these out with your friends!

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Comments

  1. This is a very useful list for French learners! The only comment I would have is that ‘je m’en fous’ is closer to ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ than ‘I couldn’t care less’. It’s totally fine to use when you’re among young people, but I would never use it with my mother-in-law or an official for example (I would use the similar “je m’en fiche” or “ça m’est égal”, which translates more to ‘I couldn’t care less’ or ‘either way is fine with me’).

    It could also just be me, but I think ‘les gars’ is more an equivalent of ‘fellows or ‘lads’ and is thus only used to address a group of men, so you wouldn’t use it to address women or a group of mixed gender. I would use more so amis/copains/potes (or jeunes, louslous, etc) in that case.

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