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An argot (English: /ˈɑːrɡ/; from French argot [aʁˈɡo] 'slang') is a secret language (cant) used by various groups—e.g., schoolmates, outlaws, colleagues, gay people (Polari) among many others—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. The term argot 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.

Author Victor Hugo was one of the first to research and compile terms from criminal argot.[1] In his 1862 novel Les Misérables, he refers to that argot as both "the language of the dark" and "the language of misery."

The earliest known record of the term argot 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.[2]

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 lexically divergent varieties 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. For example, argot in this sense is used for systems such as verlan and louchébem, 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).[3] Such systems are examples of argots à clef, or "coded argots."[3]

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 Fr. fou 'crazy'.

"Piaf" is a Parisian argot word for "bird, sparrow". It was taken up by singer Edith Piaf as her stage name.[4]

In the field of medicine, physicians have been said to have their own spoken argot, cant or slang, which incorporates commonly understood abbreviations and acronyms, frequently used technical colloquialisms, and much everyday professional slang (that may or may not be institutionally or geographically localized).[5] While many of these colloquialisms may prove imprenetrable to most lay people, few seem to be specifically designed to conceal meaning from patients (perhaps because standard medical terminology would usually suffice anyway).[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Schwartz, Robert M. "Interesting Facts about Convicts of France in the 19th Century". Mt. Holyoke University.
  2. ^ Guiraud, Pierre, L'Argot. Que sais-je?, Paris: PUF, 1958, p. 700
  3. ^ a b Valdman, Albert (May 2000). "La Langue des faubourgs et des banlieues: de l'argot au français populaire". The French Review (in French). American Association of Teachers of French. 73 (6): 1179–1192. JSTOR 399371.
  4. ^ Judith Thurman (June 25, 2007). "French Blues". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Hukill, Peter B.; H., A. L.; Jackson, James L. (1961). "The Spoken Language of Medicine: Argot, Slang, Cant". American Speech. 36 (2): 145–151. doi:10.2307/453853. JSTOR 453853.

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