Suvivalist and shallow

You may remember a blog entry I wrote a few weeks ago in which I mentioned the fact that French translations are always longer than their English source texts. Well, yesterday I had to translate the word survivalist. It must be the all-time record breaker in the "foisonnement culprit" category. This is how my dictionary translates survivalist: écologiste extrême vivant en autarcie pour pouvoir survivre à une éventuelle catastrophe nucléaire. That’s right, 13 – 1 to French!
I understand that the survivalist movement never got a firm ground in France and hence that there was no need to coin a French word for it, which is why my dictionary provides an explanation rather than a translation. However, how do you explain the fact that French doesn’t have a word for shallow? Surely they were plenty of shallow things around during the development of early French. Would it have not made sense to create a word instead of using a negative description (peu profond, not deep)?
By the way, I ended up translating survivalist as "écolo passionné de survie". I picked écolo and not écologiste because it was part of a promotional text describing a Hollywood comedy and I was asked to use a friendly and lively style.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:56+00:00 June 17th, 2004|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. Pensieri Oziosi June 17, 2004 at 10:01 am

    The single-word translation for “shallow” is missing from Italian as well. I don’t know about the other Romance languages, but it looks like it’s the Romans’ fault.

  2. Roger June 17, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Portuguese, a Latin language, has two different translations for shallow. Shallow as an adjective is “raso” so a shallow river would be “rio raso”. Shallow to describe a person is superficial which is a cognate with the same word in English. A shallow person “Uma pessoa superficial.”

  3. Qov June 17, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    Survivalist to me first brings out the image of distrusting the government, ammo and food caches. The eco aspect seems secondary to me, a necessity of longterm independent survival, like physical fitness.

  4. Pensieri Oziosi June 18, 2004 at 9:09 am

    Roger, that’s right. I was not thinking of shallow in the sense of lacking in depth of thought or feeling, for which the Italian “superficiale” is a good translation. However, shallow in the sense of having little physical depth can only be translated with two words: “poco profondo”.
    I wonder in Spanish and Rumenian…

  5. Robert Castelo June 18, 2004 at 11:02 am

    The success of English as a language is mainly due to it’s willingness to absorb new foreign words – everything from Latin to Indian.
    The result of this is that English has a word for almost everything, and if there’s a foreign word which has no translation, it can just be added in, with enough usage it will become English!

  6. Roger June 18, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    My Spanish speaking friend said that he would say bajita to express shallow as in lack of depth. But I would translate that to mean low. But in Portuguese there’s definitely a word for shallow, it’s raso.

  7. patoume June 20, 2004 at 12:08 am

    superficiel ?

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