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To improve my German, I have been reading Deutschewelle articles. In this article, which explains the importance of physical contact between human beings, there is this excerpt:

Dabei ist Berührung nicht gleich Berührung. Viele Bedingungen müssen nach Haptik-Professor Grunwald gegeben sein, damit der Körperkontakt sich positiv auf uns auswirkt.

A literal translation of the sentence would be, in my opinion,

Contact is not contact, though.

But that makes no sense logically, so I believe "nicht gleich" is a special expression that means something else in this context. Google Translate offered "Touch is not always touch", which is just as bad. I have also searched it in several dictionaries, but only found matches in Leo and dict.cc that are not helpful.

The context seem to indicate that the correct translation would be

Not all contacts are the same, though.

But having not found any reference, I would appreciate your confirmation or correction.

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There are two similar phrases:

  • X ist gleich Y

  • X ist nicht gleich X

Both, I believe are inspired by the standard for dictating or saying aloud mathematical equations, especially in school. The equal sign (=) is formally called Gleichheitszeichen but when reading equations aloud it is often given as ist gleich or sometimes istgleich; frequently shortened to gleich. Likewise, the inequality sign (≠) is often read ist ungleich or simply ungleich, but can be nicht gleich for emphasis.

These wordings likely carried over into general speech when somebody wants to establish the (in-) equality of two things/ideas/concepts in a concise manner. Ultimately, they were considered common enough to be put in writing.

Due to their origin, the (in-)equality aspect is important and integral to the meaning. Thus, omitting it—as you did in your attempted literal translation—distorts the idea behind it. A possible literal translation might be:

Contact does not equal contact

However, that admittedly sounds a little bit clunky to me. Thus, I would opt for a better translation (already suggested in the comments of the other answer by User Unknown) of:

However, not all contacts are equal.

(A better word such as touch might be used in place of contact.)

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  • +1 It's about a touch, not just about contact. – Olafant Jan 7 at 11:45
  • Thanks for the answer. I'm still unconvinced about the necessity of equal. "Contact does not equal contact", "Contact is not contact", all are of the same form of a logical absurd X≠X. I can accept that the phrase simply means what it means, namely "not all contacts are equal", because it is a fixed expression; I don't see how mere logic would let us conclude the same. – LoremIpsum Jan 7 at 11:47
  • @LoremIpsum I mean, we can argue back and forth quite a bit but ‘touch is not touch’ translates directly and only to ‘Berührung ist nicht Berührung’ with no gleich in there. Adding a gleich changes the meaning to the extent that it needs to be specified in some way in an English translation. The gleich in the German sentence is not superfluous. – Jan Jan 8 at 4:17
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You missed an important word in your literal translation: gleich

Thus a literal translation would rather be

But (one) contact is not equal to (another) contact

Where the words in parentheses are implied by using the so called Nullartikel.

The more natural translation is then indeed

No two contacts are quite alike.

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    "No two contacts are quite alike." bedeutet aber, dass kein Kontakt wie der andere ist, jeder sei einzigartig. Das soll aber nicht ausgedrückt werden, sondern nur, dass nicht alle Kontakte gleich sind und es daher Kontakte gibt, die das interessierende Kriterium erfüllen und andere Kontakte dieses nicht erfüllen. "Not all contacts are equal" wäre m.E. besser, aber das ist eine Frage, die Expertise im Englischen verlangt, nicht im Deutschen. – user unknown Jan 5 at 22:28

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