Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Word of the Month: Der Fachidiot

Word of the Month: Index

A Fach is a compartment in a larger container or piece of furniture. In a more figurative sense, the word denotes a specific area of expertise, often acquired through a course of study devoted to this particular field (civil engineering is an example). In the performing arts, Fach denotes the vocal range and related specialization of a singer (for example, lyrical soprano or Heldentenor) or the type of role an actor is particularly suited for (for example, action hero or ingénue).

An Idiot in German is the same as an idiot in English. In combination with Fach, we get a Fachidiot, a person totally focused on or only interested in his special area of expertise while remaining clueless with regard to anything outside that area. Fachidiotin is the female form, but I've heard the masculine form applied to persons of either sex.

Addendum (Dec. 5, 2015). Here's an article that explicitly refers to the German term in connection with one of the hopefuls for the Republican presidential nomination (Ben Carson): The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge.


fikink said...

Excellent word!

Mick said...

If I'm not totally wrong it sounds to me like nerd.

Ulrich said...

Mick: Interesting suggestion—I never thought of it. It's true, I found a definition of "nerd" in some dictionary, "a single-minded expert in a particular technical field", that comes very close to the meaning of Fachidiot. But more common are definitions like "a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious" or "a stereotypical label used to describe a person that is socially inadequate", which stress the social behavior or outward appearance of a person, represented stereotypically by a pair of glasses held together by tape. I have the sense that this implication of social awkwardness is less present in Fachidiot.
Note also that "nerd" is rapidly losing some its negative connotations because some "computer nerds" are making so much money—Bill Gates being the most prominent example. For some, being considered a nerd has become a mark of distinction.
To sum it up: There seems to be some overlap, but "nerd" appears to be a term much richer in connotations.

Heika said...

I think there was a time when "Fachidiot" might have been synonymous with nerd, but that time is long past. I think we are witnessing the revenge of the nerds, which was actually the title of a movie that came out at a time when being considered a nerd was definitely not desirable.

I read somewhere that the Goethe Institute, where I actually learned to speak German, took a vote among its teachers and students about which German word should be added to English, and "Fachidiot" won, perhaps because, much more than nerd, it emphasizes the one-sidedness of the person's expertise and suggests that he or she is pretty dumb when it comes to everything except one particular area of study.

Ulrich said...

Heika: Very interesting—thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Heyo, greetings from Germany! I really love your page, it helps me so much to explain German humor or sayings to my friends from the US and Canada. <3 I just wanted to add to this one, that aside from how you correctly described it, in my circles the word "Fachidiot" is also used to describe a person, who has no idea of what they're doing, but is under the strong impression to be an undefeatable expert on this field, as an alternative definition. (Much like the "Depp vom Dienst" XD) I think in English this would be comparable to a "noob". I hope it's ok to add this.
Also, I really hope your blog is still active, since I really, really love it. You got great humor combined with great skill to explain those things.