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– What did she say? – Not to put too fine a point on it, she said you sexually harassed her.

This expression means 'used to apologise for a possibly impolite statement one is making.' But why does this sequence of words mean that? What does mean to put a point on something? And then how is a fine point different from a point?

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possibly related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/34637/… –  CopperKettle Jul 19 at 13:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No one seems to know exactly what the literal meaning of the words is. That meaning has been lost in time. It's just a fixed expression these days.

http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2009/09/fine-tuning-2.html http://throwgrammarfromthetrain.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/dickenss-fine-point.html

It seems that the language is figurative. A fine point, whatever that is, is the opposite of something that is blunt. So, not to put a fine point on something is to be blunt, and in fact you can just say it like that:

To be blunt, she said you sexually harassed her.
To put it bluntly, she said you sexually harassed her.

I would say it like that personally.

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By to be blunt do you mean rude (saying exactly what you think without caring about people's feelings)? –  Graduate Jul 20 at 20:18
    
@Graduate, yes, blunt means not caring about someone's feelings, but it's different to rude I think because rudeness means you are being intentionally hurtful. If you are blunt, in contrast, you aren't trying to be hurtful. –  Dangph Jul 22 at 2:59
    
One native speaker explained me the difference between rude and mean in a similar way, but she regarded rudeness as not intentional. If you are rude, it is not intentional, maybe it is a trait of your culture. If you are mean, you do it intentionally. –  Graduate Jul 22 at 7:28

It doesn't mean used to apologize for a possibly impolite statement one is making.

It means that without going into the specific details of the event, I'll shortly paraphrase what she said.

So to put a fine point on it, would include saying how the person sexually harassed her. For example, she said you touched her inappropriately on the chest.

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1  
This. It's equivalent to "long story short..." –  Preston Fitzgerald Jul 24 at 0:53

The literal meaning is lost to the mists of time, but speculation as to the origin of the current figurative use is possible by reference either to a quill pen (though there are no reliable sources to support this), or by reference to a sharp pencil as used in drawing (again, there are no sources to support this).

However, from the Oxford dictionary, the phrase means:

To speak bluntly

and the entry continues "figuratively, with reference to the sharpening of a weapon, tool, etc.".

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