Fingerspitzengefühl

By Chris Lamb

Loanwords can often appear more insightful than they really are. How prescient of another culture to codify such a concept into a single word! They surely must have lofty and perceptive discussions if it was necessary to coin and codify one…

But whilst there is always the danger of over-inflating the currency of the loanword—especially the compound one—there must be a few that are worth the trouble.

One such term is fingerspitzengefühl. Literally meaning "finger-tips feeling" in German, it attempts to capture the idea of an intuitive sophistication, flair or instinct. Someone exhibiting fingerspitzengefühl would be able to respond appropriately, delicately and tactfully to certain things or situations.

Oliver Reichenstein clarifies the distinction from a personal taste:

Whether I like pink or not, sugar in my coffee, red or white wine, these things are a matter of personal taste. These are personal preferences, and both designers and non-designers have them. This is the taste we shouldn't bother discussing.

Whether I set a text’s line height to 100% or 150% is not a matter of taste, it is a matter of knowing the principles of typography.

However, whether I set a text’s line height at 150% or 145% is a matter of Fingerspitzengefühl; wisdom in craft, or sophistication.

Fingerspitzengefühl is therefore not innate and is probably refined over the years via subconscious—rather than conscious—study and reflection. However, it always flows naturally in the moment, not dissimilar to Castiglione's sprezzatura.

Personally, I am particularly enamoured how this concept of a "trained taste" appears to blur the line between an objective and subjective aesthetic, putting me somewhat at odds with those who baldly assert that taste is "obviously" entirely individual.


Chris Lamb is a freelance software developer and the current Debian Project Leader. You can read other posts by me, see software I have written or read more about me. You can also follow me @lolamby.


Tags: Misc Personal

Planets: ALUG UWCS WUGLUG Debian

Sunday 23rd March 2014