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Do a Google search for delicate genius and you will get many results, none seem to be a definition though.

I was referred to as a delicate genius today after making a mistake at work. I am not a lawyer or a doctor. I was not sure what was intended by the phrase, I thought it was because I usually pay a lot of attention to details to avoid such mistakes as the one I made today.

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This question seems a bit vague. Can you give some context? –  KitFox May 23 '11 at 19:12
    
More precisely: have you read definitions for delicate and genius, and if so, what do you not understand? –  F'x May 23 '11 at 19:14
    
NGrams gives many more results for remarkable genius, but I'm having trouble finding a definition for that too. So perhaps whoever answers this one can help me out with mine at the same time. Voting to close anyway. –  FumbleFingers May 23 '11 at 20:06
    
I am sure this came up in your search, but posting here because this was new to me. According to Seinfeld - Delicate Genius : 1) a highly touted professional (such as a doctor or lawyer) who would not think of talking business outside of business hours 2) a doctor who would charge a patient for a visit if they did not show up (and did not call to cancel), yet would not think twice about going skiing on a day that that doctor had a full schedule of appointments angelfire.com/nj/carlb/seinfeld/seinfelddictionary.html –  rest_day May 23 '11 at 21:16
    
This question is perfectly fine (so please don't close it), it's just not worded the best. Can you give more than 'google it'? Help us out here. –  Mitch May 23 '11 at 21:44
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3 Answers

I don't think the Seinfeld definition really amounts to any more than an opportunity for 'larky' humour.

In common understanding, a delicate genius would be much the same thing as a volatile or unpredictable genius. True genius is obviously quite rare, and most of us don't really understand it.

But it is common knowledge that genius/very high intelligence has a tendency to correlate with mental instability (e.g. van Gogh), and poor social skills (e.g. Newton)

In general I'd call someone a delicate genius if I wanted to highlight the idea of he/her needing to be handled carefully in order to get the best out of their special abilities. I'd call them an unpredictable genius if I wanted to indicate that even with careful handling you still might not get the result you want.

In either case, OP could consider it a (slightly back-handed) compliment. The implication is that OP is normally expected to do exceptionally well, and any lapse from that high standard must be down to the nature of genius, not his stupidity. But in context, it was probably a bit tichy (tongue-in-cheek).

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I have not heard of any official definitions of the word and I doubt whether whoever referred to as delicate genius had the Seinfeld definition in mind.

I can think of one explanation given the context.

  1. Someone who is often brilliant, but occasionally makes a mistake. Like you would be a genius, but for the (occasional) mistakes. (An almost genius, if you may)

If I had to guess, I would say that the person who made the comment heard that from somebody else who heard it on Seinfeld. Having no idea about the Seinfeld context, the person made their own assumption on the meaning and finally you became a delicate genius.

Note: All this is a mere conjecture on my part and I would like to be corrected, if I am wrong.

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Actually that sounds like a very good explanation. –  JD Isaacks May 24 '11 at 2:41
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Delicate Genius

1) a highly touted professional (such as a doctor or lawyer) who would not think of talking business outside of business hours

2) a doctor who would charge a patient for a visit if they did not show up (and did not call to cancel), yet would not think twice about going skiing on a day that that doctor had a full schedule of appointments

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I'm guessing you got that answer from the Seinfeld site? Did the writers for Seinfeld create that as a thing for the show o is their evidence of it as a set phrase from before then? It sounds like a German romantic nice version if hypocrite. –  Mitch May 23 '11 at 22:35
    
You are right. Actually I don't have a clue for this, just wanna help by providing some search results. –  Jamie May 23 '11 at 22:43
    
Can you provide a link for this reference, please? –  KitFox May 24 '11 at 1:57
    
@Kit, thanks for reminding. –  Jamie May 24 '11 at 2:06
    
By no stretch of the imagination is this an answer, so it shouldn't be up here posing as one. Okay, it's (a bit) funny - but just a link in a comment would do. –  FumbleFingers May 25 '11 at 0:29
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