Spin Doctor

“Spin Doctor”, what a great expression in English and how difficult it is to translate. A literal translation would mean absolutely nothing in French and I’ve often wondered how to render it. I find it impossible to encapsulate the wonderful meaning of “spin”: like good racket players who are able to give a new and unpredictable trajectory to balls, the spin doctors are able to show information under a light that suits them best. And that image is what is so hard to translate in such a snappy way.
A few weeks ago, Le nouvel observateur had a whole article dedicated to it, and the writers didn’t quite manage to find a snappy equivalent: “faiseurs de rois et conseillers spéciaux, experts en retournement d’opinion, modeleurs d’élection, inventeurs d’images, fabricants de consensus”.They also used “maîtres de la manipulation” and even “gourous”. I’ve also heard “conseillers de l’ombre”, “éminences grises de la communication”.
These expressions are all unsatisfying as they capture one aspect only of what spin doctors really are. I am wondering whether the secret here might be to have a term that is as vague and odd and evocative as “spin doctor”. After all, if you ask 10 people what a “spin doctor” is, they will probably come up with 10 different definitions. Spin doctors are mysterious creatures. That is why I really like “Docteur folimage”, a reference to Docteur Folamour (Doctor Strangelove) that I found on a handful of websites. We have the ‘doctor’ aspect of it (someone who fixes things), the “fol” element (crazy, or not completely orthodox) and “image” (which is at the centre of their activities). Sometimes spelling out a meaning isn’t the best way to convey it and it’s better to rely on evocation and the imagination of the reader.

By | 2016-10-18T15:52:23+00:00 December 8th, 2003|Words|7 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. languagehat.com December 8, 2003 at 10:23 pm


    Nothing racy here; that’s the name of a new translation blog owned and operated by Céline Graciet:I am French (born in Bayonne, in the South-West) and live in Brighton, in the UK… Living and working in the UK for nine…

  2. oranckay December 9, 2003 at 4:23 am

    You’ve probably thought of this but in case you haven’t…
    In translating Korean/English/Korean, between two languages with very poor dictionaries about each other, most of the words I need to look up aren’t in any dictionary, especially if I’m translating something about recent politics or social trends. When I run into problems, I often use search engines to see what others have tried with the same word.
    For example, enter:
    “spin doctor”
    with the quotes, of course, and also
    to make sure you get results mostly in French.
    At Google, I get 252 results. Most don’t look satisfactory, but with searches like these you will at least have the comfort of knowing you’re not ignorant of a great translation for the term that others have been using.
    Not sure how I’d say spin doctor in Korean, I just tried the same thing with the word for “politique” in Korean. The best I found on the first page was something that sounds like “campaign disinformation specialist” or “expert at confusing public opinion.”

  3. Robert Castelo December 9, 2003 at 11:45 am

    Oranckay makes an interesting point, Google, and other search engines, are useful for looking up translations of words.
    After you’ve done this a few times, you realise that any translation you do for the Web will have an effect on what becomes a standard translation. If you create your own translation, others will pick up on it and start using it – if you use somebody elses translation you are reinforcing it, giving it a better chance of becoming the standard.
    I suppose this process has been going on for centuries with printed translations, but the Internet has accelerated it to an incredible degree.

  4. Céline Graciet December 9, 2003 at 11:53 am

    I agree that google is extremely useful to “see what’s out there”, and I use it extensively, but it can also be dangerous and one has to be discerning. Just because a lot of people use a certain term, it doesn’t mean that it’s right. I’ve got an example in mind and it will be the object of an entry very soon…

  5. Robert Castelo December 10, 2003 at 5:38 pm

    “Just because a lot of people use a certain term, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.”
    True, but if enough people use a word in a certain way, it becomes right. In fact, I see this as how languages evolve, specialy when borrowing words from other languages.

  6. oranckay December 11, 2003 at 3:47 am

    For literary translations, agonizing over what would be best, what feels “right,” is an option, though you could let it take forever.
    For news translations, when you often have less than an hour to hurry a story, and especially when it discusses a term for which there will not be much argument but for which there is no reference in the dictionary, then searches are most helpful for me. Kyôngsuro, for example, is only going to be “light water reactor,” and it’s not in any regular dictionary, even though it will be in the future.

  7. Patrick January 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Spin doctor = doreur d’images souvent au Québec
    Les doreurs d’images
    Date de diffusion : 15 janvier 2006
    Les doreurs d’images, connus sous le nom de « spin doctor » en anglais,vsont des experts en communication engagés par les partis politiques.
    Pendant une campagne électorale, notamment lors des débats des chefs, ils tentent de convaincre les représentants des médias que leur candidat
    est le meilleur.

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