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Came across "[these people are] manually talented" in an English language test.The context was a group of people who were good at karate or ballgames, but also origami, pottery, sculpting, etc.

To me, it sounds more than stilted, and feels like it was taken directly from Polish (though the Polish phrase would only really apply to the non-sporty skills, not eg. karate). I would personally say "good with their hands", "crafty", or something along those lines.

But am I wrong? Does "manually talented" actually exist in English? (There are 451 results for it on Google, but that seems like a very small number for a concept that I would imagine is fairly commonplace...)

  • 7
    Dextrous/deft: skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands; "a deft waiter"; "deft fingers massaged her face"; "dexterous of hand and inventive of mind" – user66974 Mar 10 '15 at 20:07
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    You could apply physically talented to origami or pottery, but usually people would say artistically talented —even moreso than they would say manually talented. Most people would view the largest barrier to entry in the arts the creativity that is required and not the dexterity that is applied during creation. – Ian MacDonald Mar 10 '15 at 20:09
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    Sounds like someone's translation of the idiom "good with his hands." – Robusto Mar 10 '15 at 20:10
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    @Josh61 "Deft fingers/hands" totally encapsulates the idea behind the Polish equivalent (and ooh, I like your last example!), and so I'm assuming it's what the author wanted (and somewhat failed) to say. – Alicja Z Mar 10 '15 at 20:19
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    While "good with his hands" is probably the most common, the phrase "manually adept" does have some frequency: google.com.my/… – Jim Mar 10 '15 at 23:06
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Grammatically, there's nothing wrong with it, but "manually" means by hand, or with no machine or computer. People can be physically or kinesthetically talented or gifted, even unusually proprioceptively adept. But "manually talented" is meaningless, even given this context.

  • But (devil's advocate here, keep in mind I dislike the phrase)... wouldn't it theoretically make sense to say someone is e.g. manually talented at sewing (but rubbish at using a sewing machine)? And then, couldn't a pianist be considered "manually talented" (while not necessarily physically talented overall)? – Alicja Z Mar 10 '15 at 20:23
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    @AlicjaZ You make a good point, but I still think the phrase is stilted beyond normalcy. – wys1wyg Mar 10 '15 at 20:37
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    I imagine a pianist would like to be considered musically talented. "Manually talented" requires such specificity of context and subsequent linguistic gymnastics that I vote to ditch it. Despite its technical correctness. – wys1wyg Mar 10 '15 at 20:44
  • I agree. When a term needs multiple caveats, contextual information and special pleading to be acceptable in the situations in which it is being used, there seems little point in using it — especially when there are so many other, more suitable terms to choose from. – Erik Kowal Mar 11 '15 at 2:29
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Sure..

[MANUAL][1]

adjective

  1. done, operated, worked, etc., by the hand or hands rather than by an electrical or electronic device: a manual gearshift.

  2. involving or using human effort, skill, power, energy, etc.; physical: manual labor.

  3. of or relating to the hand or hands: manual deformities.

    [1]: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/manually

Manual isn't confined to just the hands. Manual labor would mean physical labor just as manual skills could mean physical skills.

  • Whether or not it's confined to just the hands is one thing... Another is whether the phrase itself is proper English, though. – Alicja Z Mar 10 '15 at 20:20
  • I think the term "by hand" in the definition of manual is what is confusing about the word meaning. "By hand" can mean doing it yourself without assistance. Although I think there are more proper ways to say manually talented, by definition, I believe that it is proper English. – SUM GUY Mar 10 '15 at 20:29
  • I think that I've said all of this above? But thank-you @SUM GUY for the dictionary post. – wys1wyg Mar 10 '15 at 20:39
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    You are welcome. I didn't copy and paste that url either. I typed it in manually using my toes. I'm manually talented like that. ;) – SUM GUY Mar 10 '15 at 21:02

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