manifestoChats at the coffee machine are among the little pleasures of coworking. I was talking with two fellow word-lovers when the word “manifesto” and its origins came up: all the parties are busy doing such declarations of policies at the moment in preparation for the general election in the UK. Our combined knowledge of Latin told us that it was probably coming from manus (hand), but we weren’t quite sure where the festo bit came from. This is what the Online Etymology Dictionary says:

Late 14c., “clearly revealed,” from L. manifestus “caught in the act, plainly apprehensible, clear, evident,” from manus “hand” (see manual) + –festus “struck” (cf. second element of “infest”).

So the idea is to clarify what a party stands for in order to help voters make up their mind. Just like being slapped in the face leaves you in no doubt as to what just happened, the reader of a manifesto should know exactly what a party intends to do. The French translation is manifeste. This word is used in French as widely as in English in the fields of politics, the arts and technology.
Photo of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto, by Dunechaser

By | 2010-04-13T08:13:37+00:00 April 13th, 2010|Words|4 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. Linda April 13, 2010 at 10:41 am

    and “manifeste” is also commonly used as an adjective that roughly means “obvious”.
    Playmobile Marx & Engels! Your photos are always quite striking. Loved the blue from Morocco…

  2. céline April 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I have a soft spot for “manifeste”, which I think sounds a lot better than “évident” and other synonyms.
    Thanks for the compliment about the photo – they’re either from Flickr when they’re credited or taken by my partner when they’re not (like the Morocco ones).

  3. brian April 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

    … and in Catalan they say “manifestació” for a public protest demonstration/march when you “manifest” your feelings.

  4. céline April 13, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Yes! It took me ages to assimilate that French “manifestation” in that sense is not translated as “manifestation”, but as “demonstration” in English.

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