I have the impression that the word "survivor" can be used in English in a rather loose sense, that is: to express the state of someone who has lived through a difficult, but not directly life-threatening, situation.

Here's an example I found today: "[Her fans] bought 85m copies of her ten novels in more than 50 languages because they loved how her heroines were survivors, not only of incest or sexual abuse, but of being fat, looked down upon, left out."

In French, my native language, using the word "survivant" in this situation simply wouldn't work because the heroines weren't directly threatened by a serial killer, a serious illness or a plane crash. So I'm curious to read your opinion the truth about the breadth of the meaning of "survivor" in English.

  • No need for "opinions", which are off-topic, when there are dictionaries available. Jul 6, 2019 at 13:54
  • Long live dictionaries! I should have picked the right one before asking. Now, I'll be happy to delete my question if you assure me it is off-topic. But I may not if it is off-topic only because of my asking for opinions - which may be informed. Please let me know. Jul 6, 2019 at 14:03
  • Never mind my comment, I edited. Jul 6, 2019 at 14:07
  • Your question may be voted for closure because it suits the Stack Exchange English Language Learners site better, or because it could be answered using commonly-available references. Jul 6, 2019 at 14:45
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    Instead of deleting it myself? Do you know the joke about the Corsican computer virus? It spreads via an email that goes like this: "You've been infected by the Corsican computer virus. If you have any sense of honour, you are now going to delete all the files on your computer." Jul 6, 2019 at 16:43

3 Answers 3


In English, a survivor can be someone who lives through difficulties.


a person who continues to live, despite nearly dying

a person who is able to continue living their life successfully despite experiencing difficulties:

Survivor (Cambridge Dictionaries)


Any answer to this question must take note of the use of the word 'survivor' in circumstances which not long ago would have used the word 'victim'.

So, someone who had suffered sexual abuse in childhood might now in some cases be called a 'survivor' rather than a 'victim'. And when I say, '...might...', in politically correct language it is now '...must...'. If you have suffered abuse, then you are now a 'survivor'. It is not necessary for a 'survivor' in that sense to have faced literally life-threatening dangers.

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    It is often a PC thing, yes.
    – Lambie
    Jul 6, 2019 at 22:00

Oxford English Dictionary. [no link, behind a paywall]

  1. colloquial. One who has the knack of surviving afflictions unscathed.

1971 P. D. James Shroud for Nightingale ix. 295 She would be earning a good living somewhere... The Mary Taylors of the world were natural survivors.
1978 J. Anderson Angel of Death xiv. 167 You're a survivor, Paul. People like you always come through.

This is a somewhat recent meaning of survivor. It has become more and more usual acts such mental or physical abuse, sexual crimes, etc. have stopped being taboo and come to be taken seriously.

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    Interesting. I suppose this usage is thus a kind of weaponization of language, an intent to "dramatize" these acts/situations to develop awareness in society. Then awareness is attained, and the nuance is somewhat lost. Jul 6, 2019 at 20:42
  • @GlauberRocha Mon compain, given that English is not your first language, may I point out that your word choice of weaponize and dramatize downplays the trauma of these experiences. The answerer said “have come to be taken seriously.” If you insist on limiting survivor to one who nearly died, then consider that an abuse victim could have been killed by their abuser or could have been so distraught that they became suicidal.
    – Damila
    Jul 7, 2019 at 4:58

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