Over the years, I have found myself faced with the difficulty of having to translate the word “bully” in an educational context.
When I moved to England and was made aware of the extent of the phenomenon through the media, my translator’s mind started ticking … Bullying was also the central theme of my first book “Le pacte des bouffons”. I had to find words to describe a “bully” in French but was never entirely satisfied with the result (“bourreau” still seems a bit too medieval!).
The matter was then made worse and my mind ticked even more…
So I browsed and read and asked many questions…
Though the word “bully” is commonly and often used in English, the French language does not seem to offer a “perfect” equivalent which would convey the same meaning, have the same connotations, or be part of the same register. Also, this subject is often discussed and tackled in countries such as the UK, Australia, the United States, Japan and Canada for example, with campaigns, debates and many books. In France on the other hand, it seems to me that up until recently, the subject was too often avoided or overlooked. This could explain why there is no word commonly used in French to describe a “bully”.
The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines the noun and the verb:
Bully: n. & v. – n. a person who uses strength or power to coerce others by fear – v. tr. 1) persecute or oppress by force or threats 2) pressure or coerce (a person) to do something.
Therefore, the word “bully” implies either physical or mental intimidation, or both. The term is used, not only by adults but by children.
For the French translation to be as close a match as possible, it should encompass these two points.
So I browsed and read and asked many more questions…
And I found several possible translations: brute, petite brute (which imply physical violence so do not work in my opinion), tyran or tyran en herbe (which, to my mind, has too much of a political “dictatorial” connotation), oppresseur scolaire (I would not expect a nine year-old to come up with this one in the playground!), bourreau or even intimidateur (which appear to be commonly used in Canada but not in France). According to me, intimidateur is the closest equivalent.
In an educational context, “brimades”, “harcèlement scolaire” are often used when referring to the concept but it is more of a challenge to find a noun which describes the person who “commits the offence”.
“Bullying” is already commonly borrowed (http://www.liberte-psychiatrie.fr/spip.php?article71, http://w3.erc.univ-tlse2.fr/pdf/Microsoft_Word__journee_Etude_violence_ecole.pdf) especially in psychology. So why not just use the English term “bully” as well? Don’t we already use the loan words “racket” and “leader” in French?
I will conclude with a few suggestions of translation for the tricky “bully”: harceleur (my personal favourite, especially since “harcèlement” is used – http://www.harcelement-entre-eleves.com/questcequeleharc.htm ) persécuteur (my second personal favourite), tourmenteur, malmeneur (both maybe a bit weak) and brimeur.
Bullying is a very serious matter and it does take place everywhere: we should take example from countries such as Canada or the UK for their efforts to raise awareness on the matter.
Please do not hesitate to e-mail me if you have an opinion on the matter!