Frequent commenter Neij asked me a while back to write an entry about verlan, a form of French slang where the letters or syllables of a word are loosely interchanged, effectively making a new word. The main thing is that the result sounds good.
Verlan is very simple, really, for example: femme becomes meuf (woman), fête becomes teuf (party), vas-y becomes zyva (go!), fou becomes ouf (mad). Interestingly, the metamorphosis doesn’t necessarily stop there. Verlan words can also be "reverlanised" when the original verlan word has become mainstream and is seen to have lost its street credibility. A new word is therefore needed, and the looseness of the process means that rather than going back to the original word, it is transformed into an entirely different word. For example, arabe becomes beur, which in turn becomes reubeu. A lot of verlan words are in common usage in French; for a useful list, click here. Gail at Open Brackets also has touched on this subject.
Another common verlan expression is à donf (from à fond, the shortened form of the expression à fond la caisse = as quickly as possible). As I was watching Ellen Macarthur’s return to Falmouth after breaking the solo round-the-world record yesterday, I noticed that this expression adorns her boat. This shows how verlan, which, like all slang, is originally created as a code among a specific group of people (here, suburbian Parisians, as Language Hat makes clear), can become widely accepted, to the point of becoming the motto of a British woman who is arguably the best sailor of her time, and has now been named a Dame.
Jean and Julien were wondering in the comments of the previous entry what the difference between a Lady and a Dame is, and this is my explanation (I could be wrong, please correct me if I am). Being named a dame means being awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She had already been named a Member of the OBE in 2001, so she’s been promoted within that order of chivalry (there are five classes: Member, Officer, Commander, Knight or Dame Commander and the highest, Knight or Dame Grand Cross). Lady is a title of nobility that you can only acquire through birth or marriage.