Outdated French Words from The 70’s

When speaking with French people, it’s normal to want to use words that you think are cool, or that you think make you sound more authentically French. Expressions and vocabulary that you heard in French songs and movies a few decades ago, maybe.

But the truth is, if you learned French in the 70’s or so, a lot of those informal terms are now outdated! (Just like in English — nobody really says groovy anymore.)

You’re probably wondering — what are some examples of this “outdated” French? And what can you use instead, to fit in and sound cool in modern French conversation?

I’ll answer all that and more in today’s lesson. Let’s dive in!

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1) Une gonzesse

Une gonzesse is slang for “a woman” or “a girl.” It used to be very commonplace in the 70’s… but it’s frankly outdated in 2020. Nowadays it’s mostly used in a misogynistic context, even!

If you want to use a more modern synonym, you can use the slang Une nana instead. It’s more common… but to be honest, it’s still somewhat outdated.

Une meuf (= a woman / a girl) is much more common, but I don’t really recommend it for you either. It’s more “youth slang,” and you don’t want to sound like you’re trying hard to appear younger than you are.

So if you want to talk about “a woman” / “a girl”, you can simply say une femme (= a woman) or une fille (= a girl). They’re perfectly good words already!

The masculine of “une gonzesse” is “un gonze” (= a guy, a dude). It’s much less common, but a few friends of mine do use that word in everyday life; it’s both casual and charming.

You can also use “Des garçons” for “guys / boys / dudes.” Click on the link to learn more in my lesson, Garçon in French.

2) Laisse béton

Laisse béton is a fascinating expression.

It’s also the title of a popular 1979 song by French singer Renaud.

Le béton in French means “concrete.” But “Laisse béton” isn’t about concrete at all! It’s a French expression that uses le verlan, the French slang that’s made by switching syllables around in a word.

For example:
À l’envers (= the other side around = flipped around) → À “vers-l’en” → Verlan

Laisse tomber [ton beh] (= “Let it fall” literally = Forget about it)
Laisse “ber-tom” [beh ton]
Laisse béton

So “Laisse béton” means “forget about it” – and you should forget about this verlan expression. The regular expression is still commonly used:

J’ai pas entendu, qu’est-ce que tu as dit ? (= I didn’t hear it, what did you say?)
– Oh, laisse tomber. (= Oh, forget about it.)

The song is still famous and well-known, though!

3) Les Ricains

Les Ricains is an abbreviation for Les Américains (= American people.)

It’s an old French slang word that I think peaked in the 80’s – and that’s why many American people in France use “Ricain” to describe themselves, their country, and their culture.

It sounds like fun, lightly self-deprecating, and relatable everyday slang, right?

…Well, not really. It’s not really used anymore. So, if you use it with French people, it might sound a bit jarring – just as if people used outdated slang from your language with you.

Of course: nothing bad will happen if you use it. People will understand what you mean. If you want to use “Ricain” for fun, go for it! But, you should know that it’s not actually something we French people use when talking about everyday American stuff.

Instead, you can say, for example:

Je suis Américaine. (= I’m an American woman), or
C’est un plat des États-Unis. (= it’s a dish from the US.)

Some people are trying to make états-uniens (= “people from the United States”) a thing, but the word isn’t very widespread. You might find it in some newspapers, though.

4) Une vedette

Une vedette means “a celebrity, a star.” It was pretty popular from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. You can hear it mentioned in older movies, for example. And it’s not slang! But, it’s still mostly outdated.

Nowadays, you can instead use une célébrité or, simply, une star. These words are in the feminine even when they apply to a male celebrity.

Jean-Jacques Goldman est une star de la chanson française. (= Jean-Jacques Goldman is French songwriting star.)

Or:
J’en ai marre des magazines qui parlent de la vie des stars. = I’m fed up with magazines that deal with the private life of celebrities.

(There are a ton of them at my local hairdresser’s…)

Want to go even further?
What are some other modern French slang words?
What’s a simple technique you can use to sound more casual in France, and less like a textbook?

To answer these questions and more, check out these other free lessons:

Popular French slang for everyday life
Can you drop the “Ne” in spoken French?

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

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Join the conversation!

  • Lately I’ve had trouble viewing videos via the link that you provide on these pages. The video plays for a minute or so but then freezes and you get the little circle that implies that it is downloading the rest of the video, it never goes away. The same videos seem to play properly when I access them through the youtube website.

    • Hi Natassia !

      Thanks for your feedback. We’ll look into it 🙂

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • Mais je viens de apprendre le mot « vedette » pour dire « une célébrité » dans la cours « Exercise Your French » leçon 18 « Faire des compliments ». Jusqu’à ce point j’ai pensé que « une vedette » ne veut dire que « speed-boat »

    • Bonjour Miles !

      C’est vrai ! En fait, “vedette” est utilisé à l’écrit (dans le journal par exemple), mais pas beaucoup à l’oral. (That’s why it’s good to know what it means, but we wouldn’t recommend using it in a conversation.)

      Par contre, c’est intéressant de connaître la phrase “J’aime beaucoup ce que vous faites” 🙂

      In French, “une vedette” also means a speed-boat. But most of the time, context will tell you which it is.

      The extra mile : By the way, “Une vedette” is a “star / celebrity” also in the sense of “flagship”, and we can use it as an adjective : “le présentateur vedette” is the “star anchor” of a TV channel for example, the most recognizable name.

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • I’ve never heard much of these except laisser beton which sounds familiar for leave it be. A mon avis ce n’est pas une bonne idee a utiliser ces expressions quand on parle avec un francais. ca ne marche pas. this is good for our knowledge but ahem we will feel ridiculous if we try to sound more old.
    nevertheless, if someone did use these je pense que ca devenira un trend non?

  • Hi Geraldine
    I learnt French in the 60’s at a very proper “Ladies College”, and such slang words would never have been spoken. Nor did we speak of movie stars. My teacher of French and also of German is the main character in the true story “Tout Ce Que Je Suis”. “All That I Am”, by Anna Funder. A book I can strongly recommend. Thank you Geraldine for all your encouragement, I think we were taught very proper French, probably old fashioned now. We were examined by The Alliance Francaise in Melbourne.
    Mazzie

    • That’s great, Mazzie! Thank you for sharing your story!

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • Une Gonzesse ? I wouldn’t dream of it.
    Or une nana ! Slang in one’s own language
    only works in the right situation, and to try
    it in a language you’re still trying to learn .. !!
    Definitely NOT.
    Page 1 of the first chapter in Brigitte Bardot’s
    book – Un cri dans le silence – contains a
    selection of such words, and “worse”, which
    you’ll quite possibly need to search for to
    figure out. Not for the faint hearted.
    But this is no cheap thriller, but rather the
    reflections of an 86 year old French woman
    on how she sees her own country today.
    As Géraldine says ~ use the polite
    terminology and you can’t go wrong.
    Une femme ~ un monsieur.

  • J’ai voulu dire,” j’aime beaucoup les vins de Bordeaux” mais j’ai dis, “j’aime les
    Bordelais”, (a un homme de Bordeaux). Il est parti tout de suite…il avait peur.

  • Bonjour! I would love to have a lesson that explains words that seem interchangeable but are not. My own faux pas: at the train station asking for the “VC” instead of “les toilettes”, at the butcher’s asking for “12 morceaux de la viande” because I didn’t remember the word “tranche”, and asking about “le taille” of shoes instead of “pointure”.

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