The Secret Slang of Paris’ Butchers

One of my favourite things about writing historical fiction is the research. To me, it’s like detective work: inevitably, I end up taking deep dives into a particular subject. (I just spent two days reading about the changing judicial system and socio-economic make-up of the Paris police force at the start of the Second Empire and will probably end up writing “he was a policeman”). Research is an essential part of the writing process for me, not least because I often get my best ideas for plot and character (not to mention future novels) while researching.

This month I ended up taking a fascinating detour into argot – French slang – and particularly types of vernacular native to Paris. And so I discovered louchébem; the secret slang of Paris butchers.

Louchébem is just one form of the many types of argot that have existed in Paris; it is a variant form of a slang called largonji, and similar to javanais and verlan, in which individual words are disguised by using a set of rules. For example, in javanais, [av] is inserted after every consonant followed by a vowel: “bonjour” thus becomes “bavonjavour”. Louchébem substutites [l] for the consonant at the start of the word: the original consonant is them re-attached at the end of the word, followed by an em/ème suffix. “Boucher” (butcher) thus becomes “louchébem”.

Les Halles centrales de Paris, construites sous le règne de Napoléon III. 1862, Baltard, Callet

In Les Misérables (1862) Victor Hugo called argot “the language of the dark” and “the language of misery”, and like all slang, louchébem had its ties to the underworld. Originating some-time during the mid-nineteeth century, some sources claim that louchébem was invented by inmates at Brest prison, though it was mostly spoken in the stalls, alleyways, bars and cafes around Les Halles: the enormous food market that was the setting for Émile Zola’s 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris “The Belly of Paris”.

Les Halles itself was a liminal place, by turns seedy, glamorous, luxurious and cutthroat, where societal lines were necessarily blurred; among the plenty was great poverty, and prostitution thrived in the surrounding streets. It was in this tight-knit world of commerce in all its forms that louchébem thrived. A cross between a type of cant and jargon, designed to be unintelligible to outsiders while using the specialised vocabulary of a profession, it was spoken almost exclusively by the city’s butchers, but due to close proximity, many of the other vendors and workers understood it well. For example, the “larçonguesse” (garçons) in the “listrobems” (bistrots) that surrounded Les Halles were known to speak louchébem to the butchers who came in after their shifts, carrying their “lobékesse” (gobbets) of meat for the chefs to cook.

Postcard showing Les Halles, 1900.

Louchébem was spoken among the butchers and vendors of Les Halles until the 1950s, and was used by members of the Parisian Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. Apparently, although not as widely known these days, it is still spoken by some workers in the meat industry. Some of the words have even crossed into common use in French, for example the word “loufoque” (“crazy”).

Anyway, here’s a short glossary of louchébem, to get you started:

Lonjourbem, ça va lienbem?” = Bonjour, ça va bien? = Hello, how are you?

larlépem” = parlé = talk

lijonpem” = “pigeon”

lardonpem” = pardon = excuse me?

lerchem” = cher = expensive

lortefeuillepem” = portefeuille = wallet

A lotvem” = à votre santé = to your health / cheers!

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Look Smart: Vintage & Eco Friendly Suits

June, 1928: “As soon as I lifted the tissue paper, I knew I had chosen well, for here it was: a suit of pale flannel, as unobtrusive as fine leather. A jacket with notched lapels, a single-breast waistcoat, wider cut trousers that hugged the waist. It all fit better than a dream, and when I looked into the mirror, I could scarcely believe what I saw. The pale brown of the suit contrasted with my black hair, the deep red of the tie was a splash of colour, just a hint of excitement. There was a straw hat to go with the suit, trimmed with a brown band. When I put it on, I had to blink hard to stop tears from falling on that perfect cloth. No one would have recognized me as the person I was before, the scruffy, frightened kitchen girl of the Hostería del Potro. Here was my new face. Here was freedom.” – from An Echo of Scandal

Ever since writing about suits in the 1920s-set An Echo of Scandal, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with them: I’m not talking about uncomfortable businesswear that you can’t wait to take off the minute you get in the door, I mean classic suits, the kind that – in decades past – were meant to be worn every day, smart yet comfortable in hard-wearing fabrics that look equally good while teaching a class or slouched at a bar.

So I started to search online. How hard could it be to find interesting and affordable suits for women, I thought? Well, as someone who’s a petite/short 5ft 2″, takes a larger size trousers than top and has a limited budget (read: full-time novelist) pretty tricky, it turned out. A lot of the suits and co-ords in high street shops are either too corporate-looking or completely the wrong cut, often in polyester or other synthetic fabrics, which I’m not much of a fan of. Add to this the fact that for the last few years, I’ve been trying to cut down drastically on the amount of brand new clothes I buy, and I found myself in a bit of a quandry.

Luckily the internet is a wonderful place, and after many hours trawling I’ve found a few reliable places that are helping me feed my suit obsession. The following listings range from online vintage stores to brands that use sustainable practices. Since the whole point of a suit is that it’s meant to last a long time, I’ve steered away from synthetics and towards fabrics like wool, linen and corduroy where possible.

L: Here’s me at the launch for An Echo of Scandal, wearing the two-piece vintage wool suit I got for a steal for £40 on Etsy last year. I had the waistcoat altered to fit at the brilliant Jokoto Tailoring in Bristol, who did a fantastic job.

P.s. I have no affiliation with any of these companies; this is purely a selection of places I’ve either shopped at or browsed for my own clothes! I’ll update this as and when I discover anything new.


Dautrefois Clothing

This online store is run by the amazing Raluca. She has a great eye for classy, smart vintage pieces, and frequently sells trousers, suits, blouses, shirts and blazers. All clothes arrive beautifully wrapped in plastic-free packaging. I bought a fantastic green three-piece combo from there last year.

Instragram: @d.autrefois

Truffle Pig Traders

This eEbay shop sells good quality vintage men’s suits at bargain prices. Mostly male tailoring, but could be an excellent place to look for a blazer or jacket. (Incidentally, I asked the tailor who altered my waistcoat for me, and she said it is definitely possible to alter men’s suits for a better fit). Worth a look!

Vintage Vixen

A long established, US-based Etsy shop, I’ve never bought from them before, but have been eyeing this brown 1970s corduroy suit for months. They usually have a good selection of suits, jackets and blazers, not to mention thousands of other items, with frequent sales.

Narrations LDN

A curated, minimalist vintage/retro shop. Last time I checked they had quite a few options when it came to suit trousers and blazers for decent prices.

Celestial Youth

One for people who love trawling Depop! if you look on my Pinterest, you’ll see several amazing outfits from this store, curated by Alex in L.A. Worldwide shipping, and some amazing trousers.

New Clothes

Admise Paris

Made in Paris, Admise was founded on a philosophy of timeless suits for women in a number of different styles of cut. They’re on the pricier end of things, but they do have sales, so worth keeping an eye on if you are in the market for treating yourself. Clean lines and classic colours, you can mix and match jackets and trousers to get the style you want, e.g. peg leg or wide leg trousers with boxy, loose or fitted jackets.


Lucy and Yak

Buy one thing and become obsessed. Lucy and Yak are known for their hyper-comfortable dungarees and boilersuits, as well as for having excellent eco-friendly and sustainable credentials. It’s their organic cotton wide-leg jeans I want to talk about here though. I’m short, and had never found a pair of high-waisted jeans that suited me. Until Lucy and Yak. They’re brilliant, with a flattering nipped-in waist and wide to tapered leg; sort of a 1930s cut. They’re made from sturdy organic cotton twill and you can order them to waist and leg measurements. Honestly, I live in mine.

‘Addison’ High Waisted Organic Cotton Twill Jeans in Black – £55.00


Yes, Toast are not cheap, but they do have trousers that I lust after, usually in great quality, hard-wearing fabrics. It’s worth keeping a beady eye on their sales. (Thanks to my friend Lidia for the tip off on this one!) They’re also trying when it comes to their environmental impact; they run repair workshops across the UK, their paper packaging is fully recyclable and they’ve committed to eliminating all single-use plastic from their supply chain by 2022. I’ve been eyeing these olive cotton linen trousers for a while now.

Jude Cotton Linen Trousers in Olive – £165

For more suit inspiration check out my Pinterest.

A 1978 Playlist

After several requests, I’m delighted to share the 1978 playlist we put together for the launch party of An Echo of Scandal last week. I’m a firm believer in immersive research, and music is a huge part of that for me. My job is made all the easier when the era in question is filled with such a wealth of great songs from totally different music genres. So, without further ado, let’s hop back in time for a few hours, to a hot, July day in Tangier during the summer of 1978…

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