Archive for December 17th, 2014

December 17, 2014



2B or nt 2B

An argot [ahr-goh] is a secret language used by various groups — e.g. schoolmates, outlaws, colleagues, among many others — to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. The term is also used to refer to the informal specialized vocabulary from a particular field of study, occupation, or hobby, in which sense it overlaps with jargon (non-standard definitions). French author Victor Hugo was one of the first to research argot extensively. He describes it in his 1862 novel ‘Les Misérables’ as the language of the dark; at one point, he says, ‘What is argot; properly speaking? Argot is the language of misery.’ The earliest known record of the term in this context was in a 1628 document. The word was probably derived from the contemporary name, ‘les argotiers,’ given to a group of thieves at that time.

Under the strictest definition, an argot is a proper language, with its own grammar and style. But such complete secret languages are rare, because the speakers usually have some public language in common, on which the argot is largely based. Such argots are mainly versions of another language, with a part of its vocabulary replaced by words unknown to the larger public; argot used in this sense is synonymous with cant language, such as verlan and louchébem (similar to Pig Latin), which retain French syntax and apply transformations only to individual words (and often only to a certain subset of words, such as nouns, or semantic content words). Such systems are examples of ‘argots à clef,’ or ‘coded argots.’ Specific words can go from argot into common speech or the other way. For example, modern French ‘loufoque’ (‘crazy, goofy’), now common usage, originates in the louchébem transformation of ‘fou'(‘crazy’). ‘Piaf’ is a Parisian argot word for ‘bird, sparrow’ taken up by the singer Edith Piaf as her stage name.

December 17, 2014


pig latin


Louchébem [loo-shuh-behm] is Parisian and Lyonnaise butchers’ (French boucher) slang, similar to Pig Latin and Verlan. It originated in the mid-19th century and was in common use until the 1950s. Each word is transformed by moving the first consonant to the end; and suffixes such as -ème, -ji, -oc, -muche are added at the end; the letter ‘L’ is placed at the beginning of the new word. Note that spelling often becomes phoneticized.

Even today, Louchébem is still well-known and used among those working at point-of-sale in the meat retail industry. Some words have even leaked into common, everyday use by the masses; an example is the word ‘loufoque,’ meaning unsound of mind. In 1937, English novelist E.C. Bentley used the language as a plot point in his short story, ‘The Old-Fashioned Apache.’