Saturday, November 24, 2007


Procrastination in French

Many people wonder how to say "procrastination" in French. Some come to this blog looking for an answer to that question, an answer which I didn't (yet) provide.

I've often wondered myself, since procrastination is something that has often come up in my conversations over the years. I've put off, until now, doing any serious research because:
  1. I practice procrastination
  2. I've arrogantly assumed that if there were a French term I'd have learned it by now, and
  3. I just give a summary definition if necessary (to francophones to whom I'm speaking but who don't seem to understand the term).
For (3), I understand what procrastination is well enough (really, I've even tried it and inhaled!), and speak French well enough, to do so without research. But very likely I did look to see what my English/French Larousse dictionary includes before today (I've had it for nearly thirty years):
  • Procrastination: Remise au lendemain, temporisation.
  • Procrastinate: Remettre au lendemain, atermoyer, temporiser, lanterner (fam.).
  • Procrastinator: Temporisateur, lanterne.
I agree more with "remise au lendemain" (or "remise à plus tard") -- putting off for later -- than with temporisation, but it doesn't offer an easy-to-use term for procrastinator. "Temporiser" is more about waiting for a more opportune time, for the likelihood of success to improve; despite what some of them may tell themselves, that is not what procrastinators are doing.

"Atermoyer/atermoiement" is an interesting candidate. But it is not quite right for two reasons:
  1. it has to do with two parties negotiating a delay to a due date (for a payment), whereas procrastination is usually one party deciding alone.
  2. it has to do with the due date, whereas the procrastinator's attention is more on the start date, or how much effort to invest and when.
Although the E.U.'s fine Inter-Active Terminology for Europe reference recommends "atermoiement", I say no.

Curious why I skipped "lanterner" and "lanterne" in this context? I haven't encountered them (that I recall, and I think I tend to notice words) in the past couple of decades so I doubt that enough people would understand them to make them viable "quick win" candidates. But I reserve judgement ("j'ajourne cette question"). And I'll investigate as priorities allow.

The CNRS's semantic dictionary proposes two other terms:
  • deferment
  • ajournement
My Petit Robert doesn't include "deferment", but I suppose it to be the act of "déférer", which has little or nothing to do with procrastination as I have come to know it: it is about delegation or reassignment of a judicial matter to a more appropriate authority. "Ajournement" (and "ajourner") are closer; some might say that, since they are mainly used in the context of courts of law and trials, too close (i.e. judges should not be procrastinating judgement): court is adjourned until...means that the judge has decided that she and everyone else involved in a trial should be doing something else for a few hours...or days. But I find it hard to imagine "Faut que j'arrête de tout ajourner" [I must stop procrastinating everything] or "t'as fini d'ajourner tes devoirs?" [have you finished procrastinating doing your homework?] in everyday popular language. That is not to say that it is wrong or should not be commonly used some day, but just that "ajourner" and "ajournement" might well not be understood by francophones today to mean "procrastinate" and "procrastination" in a context other than law courts.

In an interesting twist, the Office québécois de la langue française (who write "arrêt" instead of "stop" on their octagonal red stop signs) claim the français for procrastination is "procrastination n.f." In other words, the académie française du Canada has admitted the word procrastination as a femine noun. More water to my mill, as we say: they didn't find another word fit to mean procrastination in French.

For reasons I hope to elucidate, "procrastination", which sounds (like organisation, industrialisation) like a word that would be shared among European (Latinate) languages is thus far absent from French. The Québécois francophones have admitted it. I believe that many other francophones understand it. However, if you are not sure of your audience or readership, I suggest you stick to the heavier-handed use of a phrase instead of a single equivalent word:
  • procrastinate : remettre à plus tard / remettre au lendemain
  • procrastination : remises à plus tard / remise au lendemain
  • procrastinator: gestionnaire des priorités / manager afuté de l'emploi des ressources disponibles
You may try "procrastination". "Procrastiner v.i." is less likely to be understood. "Procrastinateur" is almost certain to be rejected. The real French don't procrastinate, I guess, so we'll have to engineer a word.

I've tried to provide the content some searchengine users supposed I already had, but I'm open to suggestions for "procrastinator" in French...

If I haven't helped you find the word or phrase you want, I'm sorry (but it didn't cost you much, I hope). If you think I'm close, have questions or suggestions you would like to share, please feel free to add your comment.

Note: for "procrastinator", one may consider "branleur, -euse", although it presumes the procrastinator (the "actor"?) is choosing other, more idle, use of her time and "effort", when in fact the procrastinator is probably just chosing any other activity as long as she can tell others that is what she has been doing, and it is arguably not a waste of time...

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I'd say that the professional procrastinator, I might be one of the world expert here, is a "Diletante"...
I agree it does not cover the entire meaning but ... Attermoyeur non plus :-)
We can say en français : un procrastinateur (ce que je suis), but we don't often use this term
le terme en Francais serait: atermoyer je pense.
French verb for procrastinate is "procrastiner". It is known and used in France.
Cool, there is actually some good points on here some of my readers will maybe find this relevant, will send a link, many thanks.
Merci pour cette explication, je trouve qu'effectivement nous n'avons pas de terme tout à fait équivalent en français. Pour la petite histoire, je cherchais à traduire le terme "procrastinate" pour indiquer dans une de mes prédications que nous mettons toujours au lendemain (ou à jamais) notre relation avec Dieu.

Votre anglais (écrit) est superbe par ailleurs.

David Mumford
Pasteur à Angers
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