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I came across the term "ausfeilen" in a book I'm reading, in the context of an "ausgefeilte Rede", and the most online dictionaries translate this as "to polish" as in verbessern or improve. But I don't get many hits on Google search for things like "meinen Aufsatz auszufeilen" or anything where the word "polish" fits rather nicely.

Would you say that "ausfeilen" is to be translated as "polish", or is it more "den letzten Schliff geben" or something similar?

Thanks in advance!

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  • Das ist doch auch eine Frage für die englische Sprache, nicht für die Deutsche. Nov 17 '21 at 1:55
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The verb "ausfeilen" does exist, but is typically only used literally in specific contexts, when you're actually taking a file or rasp to a piece of work. "Ausgefeilt" in the figurative meaning you're asking about is derived from the verb "feilen".

In adjectives, the prefix "aus-" can mean something like "fully", "completely", "to the largest possible extent". Take for example "ausgewachsen". Here, "aus-" is combined with the verb "wachsen". But when something is "ausgewachsen", it actually isn't growing any more, because it already has grown as much as it possibly could (or as much as it ever will).

Another example would be "ausgebrannt". If something is "ausgebrannt", it isn't burning any more, because it already has completely burned down or burned out.

Note that this principle doesn't apply to every adjective starting with "aus-". An example where it doesn't work like this would be "ausgeschlossen", which actually is derived from "ausschließen".

So, if your speech is "ausgefeilt", you've already polished it as far as possible (or as far as you ever will), and you're not polishing it anymore. If you are still working on it, you just say

Ich feile (noch) an meiner Rede.

I'm (still) polishing my speech.

To give something "den letzten Schliff" refers to the last round of polishing you give to something. Because not every round of polishing will be the last one, you can't use this phrase for every "feilen" an etwas.

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    Thanks a lot, very clear explanation!
    – Mark
    Nov 14 '21 at 22:36
  • Just as a side note, 'out' seems to have that same function in extending the meaning of English verbs too. Besides being 'burnt out', one might 'fill out', 'hear out', and 'go all out' to indicate something like 'maximum extent'. In English, when speaking of the metaphorical completion of something, we talk about something that is uncomfortable or not polished idiomatically in various ways: a 'diamond in the rough', 'take the edge off' of discomfort, and even people as having 'rough edges' that need to be filed down.
    – J D
    Nov 20 '21 at 14:39
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The word ausfeilen in the literal sense means to file out, or file down. The instrument, a file, is one of the finer tools, used to create smooth and intricate forms.

Metaphorically, the meaning is the same: Giving something a smooth or intricate form, structure, or design.

"Polished" nearly captures one aspect, but it is a little too superficial; "sophisticated" almost the other, but may go a bit too far in the direction of "complicated". When I try to translate ausgefeilt I have the urge to use "meticulous" somewhere — the image of a craftsman patiently creating a specimen of his craft in the desired shape comes to mind. If that word existed I'd translate ausgefeilt as "meticulated".

In some cases, when "polished" doesn't capture how meticulously crafted something is, you can just say that: a "meticulously crafted" mechanism, a "meticulously prepared" speech, a "meticulous design". "Meticulous" alone is probably rarely a good translation though, it lacks a quality or creativity aspect. The creative aspect must be contributed with a second word: Design, preparation, craft etc.

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In addition to the other very good answers, I would like to add to hone, which literally means "feinschleifen" and can be used in sentences like

"His speech has been honed to perfection."

"She honed the art of playing the guitar."

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"Die Rede muss noch ausgefeilt werden."

  • "The speech needs more of an edge, yet" (Trying to keep with the metalworking analogy here)
  • "The speech still has some edges that need rounding" (Same analogy, different goal)
  • "The speech needs some hammering out" (Same analogy, neutral on the goals)
  • "That speech needs some more grinding on your part" (As 'grinding the speech (down)' does not fit the intended meaning, the verb (which nicely encompasses abrasive action and toil, both present in 'ausfeilen') needs a person to attach to, so this translation veers quite a bit from the originals literal meaning while possibly conserving a lot of the nuance of 'ausfeilen'.)
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    To me, only the second example ("The speech still has some edges that need rounding") captures the meaning of "ausfeilen" (refining, polishing, removing burrs, ...). Example 1 could work sometimes (if the goal of "ausfeilen" is sharpening the speech to a clean edge and removing burrs), but examples 3 and 4 really feel like they refer to blatantly missing parts; i.e. basic groundwork needs to be done.
    – orithena
    Nov 15 '21 at 11:05
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Well, other explained the meaning of the word rather well, but my initial thought for "ausgefeilt" was "sophisticated".

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