Untranslatable German Words: das Fingerspitzengefühl

Posted on 27. Nov, 2015 by in Language

Hello and welcome to another post on untranslatable German words, where I bring you the quirkiest, funniest and most intelligent words that the German language has to offer – and ones that are difficult to find a direct translation for!

Today’s word is das Fingerspitzengefühl.


Foto: sidelong on flickr.com

What does das Fingerspitzengefühl mean?

To have Fingerspitzengefühl means to have an intuitive instinct about any given situation, and to know how to react to it without having to deliberate. It also suggests a certain tact or sensitivity that comes with experience.


What is the literal translation of das Fingerspitzengefühl?

The word Fingerspitzengefühl is made up of the following words:
der Finger – finger
die Spitzen – tips (plural of die Spitze)
das Gefühl – feeling

Its literal translation, therefore, is ‘the fingertips feeling’. This is because fingertips are very sensitive, yet very small parts of the human body: to have a ‘fingertips feeling’ implies understanding the finer details of a situation through heightened sensitivity to it.


How would you use das Fingerspitzengefühl in a sentence?

You would say Fingerspitzengefühl für etwas haben – to have a fingertips feeling for something. An example sentence would be:
‘Jens hat so ein Fingerspitzengefühl für die Wirtschaft‘ (Jens has such a fingertips feeling for economics). This is often said as a huge compliment for anyone who displays a natural flair for something.

To use a different context, displaying a complete lack of Fingerspitzengefühl would be to say something like:
‘Der Pullover sieht schrecklich aus’ (‘This jumper looks awful’) to someone who is sensitive about the way they look. Somebody with Fingerspitzengefühl would recognise a person’s self-consciousness and say instead, ‘Der Pullover ist schön, aber mir gefällt den Roten besser.’ (‘This jumper is nice, but I prefer the red one’).

The word Fingerspitzengefühl is most commonly used in business, politics, and personal relationships. It is also something that, according to one journalist, UK politician Ed Miliband does not have!


What is the nearest English equivalent to das Fingerspitzengefühl?

The English language has actually adopted Fingerspitzengefühl as a loanword, so in a way it is its own English translation!

However, there are a few phrases in English that hint at its meaning (and stick with the theme of body parts!). They are:

‘To keep one’s finger on the pulse’
Meaning: To be up to date with goings-on in any particular field. This isn’t exactly the same as having Fingerspitzengefühl, but the metaphor behind it is similar.

‘To have a gut feeling’
Meaning: To have an intuitive feeling about something. Like a Fingerspitzengefühl, having a gut feeling is something that comes naturally and is not based on any facts. But it could be based on experience, or great sensitivity to any given situation and/or person.


Can you think of any more translations for Fingerspitzengefühl? Do you have a similar word in your language?

Bis bald!


Sport in German

Posted on 23. Nov, 2015 by in Language, Language Listening Lesson, Practice, Sports

As a fitness trainer, I teach my classes in German. I once taught a class in English as a woman requested it (she was going to England for holiday and wanted to brush up on her English). As I taught it I realised how hard it was to translate the class back into English, even though English is my mother tongue! I found myself spurting out German words in my English sentences, just because I had learnt how to teach classes in German. Here is a post in case you ever find yourself in a German fitness class and have no clue what they’re saying. :)

die Körperteile:

The body parts:

der (die) Arm(e)                                                 The arm(s)

das (die) Bein(e)                                              The leg(s)

der Kopf                                                              The head

der Nacken                                                         The nape (back of the neck)

die Ha(ä)nd(e)                                                       The hand(s)

der (die) Oberschenkel                                       The thigh(s)

das (die) Knie                                                    The knee(s)

die Wirbelsäule                                                   The spine

der Bauch                                                            The stomach

der Po                                                                   The bum

der Körper                                                          The body

der Rücken                                                         The back

Get fit! Photo by Rance Costa on Flickr.

Vocabulary that you will often hear in any fitness class:

anspannen                                         tense

entspannen                                       relax

locker lassen                                     relax (literal translation: let loose)

nach rechts                                         to the right

nach links                                            to the left

nach unten                                         downwards

nach oben                                           upwards

ein atmen                                           breathe in

aus atmen                                           breathe out

beugen                                                   to bend

strecken                                              to stretch

hoch                                                      high

tief                                                         low

halten                                                   hold

A few positions translated into German:

Ellenbogenstand                                             the plank

Vierfüßlerstand                                              on all fours

Seitenlage                                                        side position

Rückenlage                                                   on your back (lying down)

Bauchlage                                                         on your stomach (lying down)

Stehen                                                             standing


Here is a clip of a German fitness workout that I found on YouTube; it’s a great way to get fit and practice your German at the same time! See if you hear any words that I’ve written in the list above, if there’s anything she says that you don’t understand you can write it in the comments below.

YouTube Preview Image

Viel Spaß!

Have fun!


Why ‘Germans Are Rude’ Part 2

Posted on 18. Nov, 2015 by in Culture, Intercultural, Language

Signage! #Hipstamatic #Photography

Photo: louisephotography on flickr.com


I recently wrote a post called Why ‘Germans Are Rude’, which was inspired by an article on how different cultures give criticism. Firstly, I want to thank everybody who commented on it. It seems that this is a topic everybody has something to say about, which is great! The Germans are arguably one of the most stereotyped nationalities in the world, and while it is good to challenge those stereotypes, it is also interesting to see where they might come from. I hope you agree!

In my last post, I talked about how the structure of the German language in relation to UK English could be the reason why Germans come across as rude to British people. The German language is, on the whole, a lot more direct than English, after all. We saw this in the example ‘Gibst du mir die Kassette?’, which is a lot more direct (‘Will you give me the cassette tape?’) than its English counterpart would be (‘Would you mind giving me the cassette tape, please?’ – or ‘Würdest du, wenn es dir nichts ausmacht, mir die Kassette bitte geben?’ if you want the German equivalent!).

Gibst du mir die Kassette?
Würdest du, wenn es dir nichts ausmacht, mir die Kassette bitte geben?


One reader made another excellent contribution with the example:

‘Kauf doch einen neuen Boiler!’

Meaning in German: Why don’t you buy a new boiler?

How it might sound if directly translated into English: Buy a new boiler!

What gets lost in translation in this example is the word doch, which is the part of the sentence that makes this a suggestion rather than a command. Without it, the sentence does come across as bossy and direct.

Kauf einen neuen Boiler! – Buy a new boiler!
Kauf doch einen neuen Boiler! – Why don’t you buy a new boiler?


So, when confronted with a bossy-sounding German, take a moment to consider that it could be a case of words being lost in translation, rather than abrupt rudeness – and we all know how many German words get lost in translation!

This leads me on to another thing I wanted to touch on: the lack of words and phrases in German that we use all the time in UK English (and probably in US English, too) which, to put it bluntly, don’t really mean anything. Take the following:

Hi! You alright?
Have a good day/morning/afternoon
Have a safe journey home
Have a safe flight
Take care of yourself
It’s nice to meet you


These are all, when you strip them down, ways of saying hello and goodbye in English. When an English person greets someone with ‘You alright?’ they don’t actually want to know if that person is alright, nor do they expect an answer. They’re just saying hello. Similarly, when people say “It’s nice to meet you”, they don’t necessarily mean that it’s brightened their day to meet this person. It is just a way of saying hello or goodbye to someone they have just met.


The Germans, on the other hand, tend to leave out phrases such as these, as they see them as a waste of time. It is uncommon for a cashier, for instance, to tell you ‘Schönen Tag noch’ (‘Have a nice day’) . They’re much more likely to say a simple ‘Auf wiedersehen’ (‘Goodbye’). How would this come across to a Brit? Probably a bit rude when compared to English customer service, right? But it’s not. These kinds of phrases just aren’t very common to the German language, because the Germans don’t believe they add anything to a conversation.


It’s the same with phrases like “Have a safe flight” and “Have a safe journey home”. I had a German couple stay at my parents’ house over the summer. It was the night before they were due to fly back home, so upon my Abschied (farewell) to them I said (in English) “Have a safe flight”, to which the girl replied, “Well, that is up to the pilot.” It was the oddest response I’ve ever had to that phrase, but it actually made me feel a bit silly for having said it, because she’s right… her safety on the flight was, of course, up to the pilot!


Day 22 of 365, Cheez Ball

Have a safe flight! Photo: 28096801@N05 on flickr.com


Don’t expect to make the same small talk in Germany that you’d make in the UK or the US.


One last thing I’d like to add is that Germans tend to keep their personal and professional lives separate, and that language plays a huge part in creating distance between individuals at the workplace. I have touched on this in my post ‘The etiquette of Sie and du at the workplace’.


With these posts, I hope I’ve shown how the differences between the English and German languages can lead people to believe that Germans are rude or cold, and why this is often not the case. The first part is here, for those who haven’t read it. And again, any comments are more than welcome!


Bis bald!