I'm trying to understand how offensive the word Fachidiot is.

  • Is the idiot bit just tongue in cheek or does it imply a lack of intelligence?
  • Does it somehow imply the person is at least an expert in his field?
  • Could it be someone self-absorbed, like a mathematician who only cares about math?
  • Is it something you can call someone?

7 Answers 7


It can be very offensive.

The term (which could be literally translated as "Expertise Idiot") implies that the person is over-specialized in their expertise to the point of being dysfunctional. Not just dysfunctional at unrelated tasks but even at those tasks they are supposed to be experts in due to the inability to view a problem from different perspectives and their lack of soft skills. It also implies that the person is too arrogant to realize this.

So when you call someone a "Fachidiot" during an argument, you essentially say "You are so stuck up in your expertise that you fail to perceive reality and therefor it is pointless to debate with you". The insulting thing about this is that you attack what they perceive as their greatest strength and claim that it is in fact a weakness.

Further reading: German Wikipedia

But as with any offensive term: Context matters. Any term can be insulting or harmless, depending on how you say it, in what situation you say it and what relationship you have with the person you are saying it to.

  • 9
    Context matters a lot indeed, I've been called the Dutch equivalent of Fachidiot (Vakidioot) plenty enough without feeling insulted. It's the tone that makes the music.
    – Mast
    Oct 21, 2019 at 12:57
  • 1
    "professional idiot", "trade idiot", "expert idiot" would all be closer translations... Oct 21, 2019 at 16:23
  • 6
    Also note that using any kind of "-idiot!" in the wrong moment, if taken seriously, could actually get you in legal trouble. § 185 StGB Beleidigung. (StGB is german criminal code!). Oct 21, 2019 at 16:26
  • 2
    The wikipedia article has a very interesting bit of information: It puts Fachidiotie in the context of industrialization and division of labor in the 18th and 19th century which Karl Marx lamented because it "alienates" the worker from his work. Hegel postulated that it is human condition, human nature and human fulfilling to interact with nature through work in order to sustain themselves. Breaking this "wholesome" and nurturing experience which resulted in immediate material Gebrauchswerte up in small, anonymous, repetitive steps of industrial labor deprived laborers of their humanity. Oct 22, 2019 at 4:55
  • 5
    Yes, BЈовић : Germans love self demeaning humour and irony. So somebody introducing themselves as a Fachidiot to explain that their view is unapologetically biased by their background would certainly not be considered offensive. Oct 22, 2019 at 21:52

Nein, ja, ja, kommt drauf an.

Über den Betreffenden wird gesagt, dass er zwar Experte auf seinem Gebiet ist, aber ansonsten Scheuklappen aufhat. Ein Kompliment ist das nicht. Wenn man aber weiß, dass der Betreffende sich selbst so sieht und den Zustand frei gewählt hat, etwa weil er alles außer seinem Fachgebiet vernachlässigt, um in diesem an der Spitze zu sein, dann kann man es sagen, oder wenn es nicht so ernst gemeint ist, etwa wenn ein Mitarbeiter meint die Grafikkarte sei kaputt, und man sagt "Holger ist ein Fachidiot - er kann nur Software", während man den Powerknopf des Bildschirms drückt, um ihn einzuschalten.

Wie so oft kommt es darauf an, wie der Kontext der Situation ist, wie man es meint, wie man es ausdrückt (Stimme, Gestik, Mimik), wie empfindlich oder entspannt, selbstkritisch und humorvoll der Gemeinte ist und ob er es so versteht, wie es gemeint ist.

Ist es aber als ernstgemeinte Kritik geäußert, dann mildert die Anerkennung der fachlichen Kompetenz diese immerhin ein wenig ab.

translation by B--rian

No, yeah, yeah, it depends.

It is said about the person concerned that, although he is an expert in his field, he otherwise has blinders on. That is not a compliment. But if you know that the person concerned sees himself that way and has chosen the state freely, for example because he neglects everything except his field of expertise in order to be at the top in this one, then you can say it, or if it is not meant so seriously, for example if an employee thinks the graphics card is broken, and you say "Holger is a professional idiot - he can only do software" while you press the power button on the screen to turn it on.

As so often, it depends on how the context of the situation is, how you think it is, how you express it (voice, gestures, facial expressions), how sensitive or relaxed, self-critical and humorous it is and whether you understand it as it is meant.

If, however, it is expressed as serious criticism, then the recognition of professional competence at least softens it a little.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user9551
    Oct 25, 2019 at 17:17

From my point of view:

  • The idiot bit does not does not imply a lack of intelligence, but a lack of interest in dealing with issues ouside the person's specific field of expertise and may also imply a lack of social qualities.
  • Yes, the speaker does recognize that the person is an expert in his/her field.
  • Yes, I think this is a typical example.
  • I would say no. You would rather use it for characterization of the person towards someone else (in a rather undiplomatic way).

To sum up, I feel that the term does have a high risk of offending someone and would therefore never use it in professional communication.

  • 1
    A complete and correct answer. Oct 22, 2019 at 4:49
  • While your explanation is likely closer to the original greek meaning of Idiot, Germans will tend to understand a simple "Idiot!" as a serious insult that does imply lack of intelligence. This probably has some background on "Idiot", "Idiotie" being formal medical descriptions for mental disabilities at some times in the 20th century. Probably similar to "retard!" in English. Oct 22, 2019 at 22:00

There exists only one setting where you can use the term "Fachidiot" outside of bantering with (rather good) friends: when you are referring to yourself (hopefully in jest).

Every other usage will be considered rude.


This may include the recognition of any given expertise, but it is rather directed at the limited scope someone may have (good at one thing, useless for everything else). In general, it is the exact opposite of "Jack of all trades" (which implies a wide scope in expertise, even if the detail-knowledge may be shallow). "Trained monkey" might be the English term which comes the most close, because indoctrination is no education - and indoctrination produces this kind of people.

In a professional setting, this term should better be avoided, because it can be interpreted as an insult, even if it may describe a person accurately. And when the term is used, this often happens among coworkers of that person, who are fed up of issues arising from that limited scope. Especially, when the problems which arise are outside of the limited scope of the person who caused them. It's usually far more an expression of anger, than it would be useful to insult somebody.

Karl Marx put it nicely:

Was die Arbeitsteilung in der modernen Gesellschaft charakterisiert, ist die Tatsache, dass sie die Spezialitäten, die Fachleute und mit ihnen den Fachidiotismus erzeugt.

In multi-disciplinary teams, these are the people who are barely interested in the other disciplines.


Derived from "Fachmann" (specialist), as its tongue-in-cheek modification, or escalation. Its insult level is a bit lower than that of pure idiot, as the person is acknowledged as a legitimate specialist, at least.

  • This does not add anything to existing answers Oct 24, 2019 at 7:09
  • Indeed, it reduces the answer to a quotable bit. That is a plus.
    – vectory
    Oct 24, 2019 at 16:53

Contrary to the other answers, I would argue that a Fachidiot is an idiot in the discipline. As such it would have been wrong to write "their own discpline" in the previous sentence. It is pretty much impossible to become an expert at anything, and own an entire field (whether alone or in a group), if a broadly diversified basis is missing.

The difference is fleeting, of course, because the concept of expertiese can be expressed variously and especially with irony when it's supposed to display the inverse magnitude of idocy. It's bounded, because opposite to no expertise is just expertise with an unspecified magnitude. The expertise can be expressed relative in quality or quantity to the common sense. Still, the idocy can aproach infinity, either way. And so there's an almost unlimited potential for being and being taken as offensive. The word idiot is always offensive, no matter how it is packaged up.

But the irony can be taken a step further, if the general common knowledge is not really doubted, but pales in comparison to the specific knowledge. Then you just have somebody vom Fach, a Fachmann, Facharbeiter, or Bereichsleiter, who is an idiot for other reasons, perhaps because they downvote answers without commenting. The joke is anyway that it's an oxymoron, and so it's not funny anymore if the ambiguity is missing. Also cp fähig, ein fähiger Idiot.

It could at least express uncertainty, however.

Now the question whether something offensive is always offensive is interesting, but the answer is simply:

No, you idiot!

  • -1, the very first sentence is wrong already. Furthermore this seems like a rant in disguise about you getting downvotes on answer answers, so I'd give another -1 for that, if possible. The only thing I can agree on, that something offensive is not always offensive. But the rest of this answer is either not addressing the question or making wrong statements Oct 24, 2019 at 6:41
  • @infinitezero, it is wrong, that is: I actually wouldn't argue? Then, why do you try to argue with me?
    – vectory
    Oct 24, 2019 at 11:10
  • I don't try to argue with you. If you say, contrary to other answers, the moon does not reflect the sun light but shines on its own, I'd again say, that it is wrong. It's a factual statement, not a prompt for debate. Oct 24, 2019 at 11:16
  • @infinitezero you misrepresent my statement. Other answers didn't argue the contrary. I tried to point out that. I took the extreme outlier position, interpreting the term as an "expert" and leveled it down to the average position "good at [something]". Alas, I didn't eleborate on something because that's a broad topic so I didn't talk about sun an moon, but stars. I showed that two different approaches give seemingly contrary result, and if left it to the reader to decide where the overlap is, assuming they will have read the other answers.
    – vectory
    Oct 24, 2019 at 16:50
  • "I would argue that a Fachidiot is an idiot in the disciple" <> "I took the extreme outlier position, interpreting the term as an 'expert'" Oct 24, 2019 at 16:55

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