timetableFirst of all, my British friends, do not miss this new series on Channel 4. The first episode was extraordinarily good, with a fantastic soundtrack by mogwai.
Back to language: Les revenants was translated as “The returned”, but in this context, revenant (from revenir, to come back) has a different meaning. It was actually borrowed in English to mean a dead person reappearing in their community, looking exactly the same as when they died, which is the premise of this series. So why not translate the title as “The revenants”? Maybe because it’s not a very common term?
By the way, I keep hearing people talk about “the French zombie series”, but although they are all undead, revenants are quite different from zombies, who have a unique way of walking, look rather beaten up and just want to eat human flesh. Revenants normally return for a specific purpose. Neither are they ghosts, as suggested by the English translation given by the Oxford dictionaries:
So, to sum up, this is a revenant:
This is a ghost:
This is a zombie:
I think we’ll all agree that revenants are far scarier than ghosts or zombies.

By |2016-10-18T15:48:28+00:00June 11th, 2013|Words|6 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. Adrian Morgan June 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Well, I learned something. I hitherto only knew of revenants from the classic 90s computer game Doom, where they’re more like skeletons than zombies, and not at all like living people.

  2. Sharon June 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    This is a funny article, and a good way to remind people that the French can do series too! The translation of titles is always a pitfall and when one loves a show, a bad translation can be ever so disappointing. Just like you, I quite like the sound “The Revenants” has to it.
    Export French culture abroad is a good thing, but English translation obviously requires more than just equivalence, professionals are trying to play on all the connotations of words to make the show appealing. Trust other translators to comment on their choices. You never know, you could actually learn new words in the process.

  3. EP September 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    OMG! That woman on the bottom was my third grade teacher!

  4. céline September 2, 2013 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    No way! My friend Erin was your third grade teacher!? That’s AMAZING, I must tell her!

  5. Cathy Lara February 9, 2014 at 12:47 am - Reply

    What an interesting word! I hadn’t heard it before. I’ll have to check and see if this series is out in the US.

  6. Karolina Karczmarek-Giel February 23, 2014 at 10:41 am - Reply

    You know what? It’s the zombie that creeps me out the most.
    Thank God you didn’t post a clown picture – I’d have to hide in the bathroom for prolonged periods of time!
    Karolina Karczmarek-Giel
    Office Assistant

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