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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.
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.
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.
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!
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?