Les « Intraduisibles »

Too French for translation…

#5 DÉbrouillard

A positive adjective of great versatility in the French language, débrouillard is readily translated into English by ‘resourceful’ or ‘smart’, with certain dictionaries even imbuing this term with malicious and cunning connotations, such as ‘crafty’ and ‘wily’. Whilst ‘resourceful’ does encompass the essence of ingenuity found in débrouillard, this English adjective carries, as its etymological origins would suggest, an intrinsic sense of a visible, tangible and almost physical capability.

At its roots, débrouillard derives from the Gallo-Roman, ‘brodiculare’, meaning ‘to soil, to pollute’, which provides the French language with its noun for fog, ‘brouillard’. The addition of the prefix ‘de-’ therefore renders this adjective applicable to someone who is capable of demystifying, disentangling and dispelling any confusion and complication surrounding difficult circumstances. Thus an individual can be described as débrouillard on account of their innate and often subtle ability to evaluate and tackle any type of possible situation with commendable dexterity.

Débrouillard appeals, as such, to a greater and more general realm of skilled adeptness and is the inspiration behind the French association called Les Petits Débrouillards. Founded in 1984, they organise interactive workshops that intertwine science and technology with fun discovery, aiming to equip young learners with a sense of inquisitive knowledge and the potential skillset to unravel, unscramble and unpack any conundrum with which they are faced. In light of the project’s success, Les Petits Débrouillards have since developed a range of videos, texts and exhibitions based on their inventive and challenging puzzles.