What is the difference between "manchot" and "pingouin" and are they both translated to English as penguin?

  • Yes, confusion comes from the fact that a manchot (fr) is a penguin (en). Tux, la mascotte de Linux, est un manchot.
    – rds
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


The "manchots", or "penguins" in English, are birds who live in the Antarctic, in the southern hemisphere. They can't run nor fly, but they move quickly by sliding on the ice (as seen in cartoons); and they can cover quite a lot of distance by walking. They use their wings in order to swim underwater. Greater species (as the Emperor penguin on the following picture) can be up to 1.20 m in length.

An Emperor penguin

The "pingouins ", or "auks" in English, live in the northern hemisphere (mostly in coastal regions of temperate to arctic climate). They can fly and don't measure more than 40 cm. Great auks, an extinct species, could measure up to 75 cm (the great auk was flightless).

A torda auk

Both are kinds of birds (the penguin feathers are adapted for thermal isolation and floatability, but they are nonetheless feathers, and there is no doubt that the penguin is a 100% genuine bird).

(Mainly from)

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    I must add that most French people say "pingouin" when they see a penguin ("un manchot") because they are not aware of the existence of the auk.
    – Tom Leek
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 22:47
  • Quand je recherche "pingouin" sur Google, les images sont toutes des animaux qui en anglais s'apellent "penguins." Pourquoi? J'ai lu ce que t'as dit, @TomLeek, mais je penserais que Google saurais la verité. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 16:27
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    There is an historical debate; the polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot insisted on calling penguins "pingouins" based on the idea that the word is imported from the Italian "pinguini", but it seems that in fact the word came from Dutch, itself coming for Welsh "pen gwyn", which means "white head" and would have originally designated the Great Auk. In that sense, French has a "more correct" terminology than English. In general, on etymology-related points, democratic wisdom gets the details wrong.
    – Tom Leek
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 19:37
  • If you want to be really precise, "Auks" is a large bird family that include the "pingouin" but also lots of other birds, like the Puffin. The only living "pingouin" is called Razorbill in English (Petit Pingouin). The great auk doesn't belong in the same genus. Because "Pingouin" designates only one species, it's more accurate to translate to Razorbill. Anyways, taxons are a b**ch (especially between languages. Did you know Puffins ≠ Macareux ?) Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:06
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    It is a little misleading to say they "are birds who live in the Antarctic, in the southern hemisphere". Southern Hemisphere yes, but they cover virtually the whole range of latitudes. Only 4 or 5 species are in the Antarctic. Several are tropical (African, Humboldt, Magellanic penguins...) and the Galapagos penguin lives right on the equator. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 11:57

From Wikipédia

Dans de nombreuses langues, deux termes différents sont utilisés pour désigner les deux espèces de pingouin, ce terme n’a donc pas de traduction exacte. En anglais, le terme Great Auk désigne le grand Pingouin, auk étant un terme générique désignant le plus souvent l’ensemble des alcidés. Le petit Pingouin est quant à lui appelé razorbill.

= In several languages, there are different words for the two species of pingouin. Therefore, this noun has no exact translation. In English, “Great Auk” stands for the grand pingouin, “auk” being a generic term standing for all the alcidae. The petit pingouin is called razorbill.

  • Thanks for the translation! I don't speak French, my question originated from a discussion with a French friend. Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 1:09

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