tergiverser / atermoyer / louvoyer / tataouiner / zigonner / biaiser

These six verbs essentially convey the idea of "procrastination", whether it be due to waffling back and forth between choices, or to delay the inevitable as long as possible.

I'm trying to work out the difference in register, usage — any nuance that non-native speakers may find hard to grasp.

I'd say, for instance:

Je ne suis pas du genre à tergiverser, mais là, franchement, je sais pas quoi faire.

... but I wonder how the other verbs stack up?

  • Any particular reason why you didn't mention “procrastiner” in your list? Seems like “lambiner” would also be interesting to consider... Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:24
  • @Feelew I only listed these six so that the list would not get too long, but if you have some thoughts to add to the pack, please feel free! :) By the way, what's your take on the nuance I feel between "tergiverser" and "tourner en rond"? (in a comment left on jlliagre' answer) Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 0:13
  • I voted your comment up. Seems like a reasonable interpretation. jllagre seems to have an example in mind for which tourner en rond would be done delibarately, but I can't think of one myself. One could indeed tourner en rond in their thought process for lack of something better to work on, but then, this person would be trying hard to get out of the loop, and the going around in circles would only be accomplished in order to find an escape route towards a more fruitful vein of thinking somewhere along the path. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 14:07
  • Another possibility, I guess, could be to make discussions go in circles (les faire tourner en rond)... One could deliberately try to bring the conversation back on the same issues, whichever way others try to have them evolving away from them. But then, one could rightfully argue this has very little to see with procrastination, and more to see with being unable to accept any other position than theirs (de mettre un peu d'eau dans leur vin). Depending on the situation, one of the concepts of mauvaise foi or chien enragé would probably be more appropriate. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


Tergiverser is by far the most common/neutral term for this, if a little formal. It's not quite neutral, being somewhat derogatory I believe.

Atermoyer is a lot more literary (and as such not derogatory), but seems to have acquired a pronominal construction s'atermoyer sur probably under the influence of s'attarder. This pronominal construction feels a lot less literary to me. I've sometimes seen it used with the meaning "wallow over (smth)". Otherwise, atermoyer mostly a synonym of tergiverser, but also appears used in the meaning of "deviate on a different topic".

Zigonner (intr.) has the literal meaning of "fiddle with something" usually with the implication of pointlessness, either because the actions itself are pointless (think fidget toys) or the goal specifically won't be reached that way (if ever at all). Hence by extension "waste time" (here through hesitation), but the literal meaning is more common overall.

Tataouiner is more specifically close to tergiverser,but more openly derogatory about it. Generally mildly insulting.

Louvoyer implies intent. Tergiverser is general hesitation (whether intended or not to dodge), but louvoyer (to me) says you are very much willfully dodging having to make a decision or answer a question.

Biaiser doesn't actually have a meaning of hesitation as far as I know. I've personally never heard it used in that way. It's sometimes used to translate the english to bias, especially in adjectival form, though.

  • Louvoyer indeed involves deliberate dodging, but it could also be in an attempt to avoid attacks or nuisance, wouldn't it? (p.ex. Elle louvoie entre les embûches dont ses adversaires garnissent son parcours). It is perhaps beside the point of this question, though, since it relates to wasting time, not struggling not to waste it. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 14:01

There are nuances between them:

Tergiverser: hesitate, waver on a decision

Atermoyer: Same, but formal, literary

Louvoyer: Do not move straight, weave, not necessarily figuratively.

Tataouiner: French Canadian specific.

Zigonner: Idem

Biaiser: To skew, go a circuitous way.

  • Which of the six is well suited for use in that e.g. sentence? As for the two Canadian-specific words, are they equivalents of "tergiverser" in neutral register? Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 16:28
  • I have no experience with tataouiner and zigonner. Tergiverser is the most idiomatic of the remaining choices. Louvoyer is acceptable. Atermoyer is too old, S'atermoyer is used but often with a slightly different meaning (to complain about something). Biaiser means something different, you can biaiser without being indecisive. An idiomatic expression might also be, Je ne suis pas du genre à tourner en rond, mais là, franchement, je sais pas quoi faire.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:12
  • 2
    Is it just me, or does "tergiverser" mean "dilly-dallying of your own free will", while "tourner en rond" is more about ended up dilly-dallying as a result, at the mercy of something? -- "On a fini par tourner en rond." or "J'avais l'impression de tourner en rond." --- For this very reason, it sounds odd to my ear to substitute "tergiverser" in these two sentences. What do you think? Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:32
  • Yes, the nuance you describe exists but I wouldn't completely rule out tourner en rond of one's own free will.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 17:40

Tataouiner and zigonner are quebecois stuff: I've never heard any of them in France.

Atermoyer is not really used anymore but the noun atermoiement is:

"Cessez vos atermoiements et continuons" but it is definitely very formal language.

Tergiverser and biaiser are common but I'd say that tergiverser is used by educated people while biaiser can be heard anywhere:

"Il a encore essayé de biaiser mais il m'aura pas cette fois."

louvoyer is a bit like biaiser: it is nautical vocabulary so I'd say it is fairly popular and common.

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