The French noun, évidence, does not have an easy English equivalent. Évidence does not translate into our “evidence.”
MS Word translates évidence as “no brainer.” A typically inept and maladroit effort by some clueless 20-year-old Microsoft intern, was my first thought. But the more I looked into évidence, the more I realized that “no brainer,” while a clumsy idiom, is just about as close as one can come to the meaning of the French word.
The primary translation of évidence in Google Translation is “evidence,” the secondary one is “obviousness.” Four other translation sites translate it variously as “obviously,” “obviousness,” and “evidence.” My Collins French-English dictionary gives “obviousness” and “conspicuousness.” Larousse has “obviousness” and “obvious fact.” Larousse also gives some sample usages, including: c'est une évidence, “it's obvious.”
Obviously (de toute évidence), our “evidence” will not do. Evidence points to something that may or may not be true, much less something that is obvious. “Obviously” is an adverb, évidence is a noun, so “obviously” doesn’t work. The problem with “obviousness” is that it defines a general quality rather than the thing(s) possessing the quality. It’s like saying that “meekness will inherit the earth,” rather than that “the meek will;” or “greenness is my favorite color.”
Larousse’s “obvious fact” is pretty good; it certainly is not as offensively slangy as “no brainer,” but it does not carry the immediacy of “no brainer.” Also, neither “no brainer” or “obvious fact” cover Collins’ “conspicuousness,” which is also presented in a couple of usages in Larousse: se mettre en évidence, “to make oneself conspicuous,” and, a short story all in itself: ses décorations bien en évidence sur le buffet, “his medals lying conspicuously for all to see on the sideboard.” (What a load of information about that old soldier we learn from less than a dozen words!)
Conspicuousness aside, what about translating évidence as “the obvious?” That would allow us to maintain the parts of speech (noun-verb-noun) of Larousse’s c'est une évidence, by translating it as “it is the obvious” instead of “it's obvious.”
As an adjective and adverb, en évidence, is much easier to translate. The adjective “evident” is a perfectly good translation of en évidence. “Evident” and “obvious” are synonyms. Funnily, the adverb “evidently” carries a hint of dubiousness that “obviously” does not. “His presence was evident” and “his presence was obvious” mean pretty much the same thing. “Evidently, he was there” does not have the ring of fact that “obviously, he was there” does. (This may arise from the fact that evidence is a formal element in adjudication, where evidence can be disputed.)
Une évidence is not the same as un fait (a fact); it is more limited. Anything obvious is a matter of fact, but not all facts are obvious. L'herbe est verte est une évidence. “The grass is green is an obvious fact” or “an obviousness” or “a no brainer.” Je suis assis dans une chaise est une évidence. L'ordinateur est allumé est une évidence. The same obviousness applies to my sitting in a chair and my computer being on. However, would a French person say, le monde est rond est une évidence? It is a question I’ve asked Claude, and have not yet received an answer. My guess is, no.
The world is round. That is a fact. But it is not an obvious fact. You could say that the greenness of the grass, my sitting in a chair, the computer being on, are things I am aware of without having to think about them – not, technically speaking, no brainers, because the brain is involved in sensing these things, but they require no thought. They are facts which exist in the realm of the obvious. It is not obvious to the senses, however, that the world is round. (I suppose someone to whom the shape of the world was a mystery, on seeing the horizon at sea, might determine, without thought, but simply through sensory information, that the world was round, but this would be an act of exceptional genius.) To understand the spherical shape of the earth as a fact still takes a sliver of thought. It is not something immediately experienced, but requires a brief, wee connection to something that was learned.
Somewhere within the untranslatability of évidence there is a profound truth about the difference between the French and Anglophone cultures. What that truth is seems to me, in one way, obvious. But I do not have the wherewithal to put it into words.
Imagine that there was no word for grass and no word for green. In order to convey the fact that the grass is green I would have to tell you what grass was and what the color green was. That, also, would be beyond my powers and abilities. I suppose we can thank our lucky stars that there is not a word for everything. That would certainly put paid to literature.