– 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?


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.

  • By to be blunt do you mean rude (saying exactly what you think without caring about people's feelings)? – Graduate Jul 20 '14 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 '14 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 '14 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.

  • 1
    This. It's equivalent to "long story short..." – Preston Jul 24 '14 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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