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But the truth is, if you learned French in the 70’s or so, a lot of those informal terms are now outdated!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You’re probably wondering — what are some examples of this “outdated” French?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 It used to be very commonplace in the 70’s… but it’s frankly outdated in 2020.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 It’s more common… but to be honest, it’s still somewhat outdated.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.
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.)
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:
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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