I heard about this sentence,

"How to do it well? The fine point: ...."

What does 'the fine point' mean in this context?

  • 4
    Are you sure you're not misreading the fine print?
    – Robusto
    Jul 17, 2011 at 15:23
  • @Robusto: I missed that possibility. It would be more likely if the preceding question had been What exactly does it mean?, but you could well be right anyway. I'll mention it. Jul 17, 2011 at 16:10
  • @Robusto @FumbleFingers I put the link of the video from which I got this phrase. I think it says so
    – mko
    Jul 18, 2011 at 1:05
  • 1
    @yozloy: Your clip is talking about "the fine points" of swimming. Those are the extra details that separate those who can master a skill from those who are novices.
    – Robusto
    Jul 18, 2011 at 1:09
  • Having just checked that video, I think the fine points is a slightly "clipped" informal style where I myself would probably at least say the finer points. Certainly points would always be pluralised. Jul 19, 2011 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


Ordinarily a fine point means a subtle distinction (sense 8a in TheFreeDictionary).

The fine point isn't a standard term in any context, but per @Robusto's comment, there is the fine (or small) print meaning (usually unfavourable) details buried inconspicuously in small print at the end of a verbose contract. In common parlance it's often assumed that such apparently minor details may in fact be of crucial importance when deciding whether to sign a contract.

In fact OP has mistranscribed "The fine points" (at 1m 45s) in an instructional video. As @Spare Oom indicates, a fine point is a subtle or abstruse point. Used in the singular that would often imply an obscure, peripheral detail, but in this particular context the speaker is using the plural, and his meaning is...

The subtle details which must be mastered in order to swim really well.

This doesn't seem like a particularly common usage to me, possibly because of the unwanted negative associations with fine print, and a fine point in an argument, which is often said dismissively of some valid but peripheral assertion. In OP's context there are no such connotations or other ambiguities, but I wouldn't advise using the expression more generally unless your context is equally clear.


The details about how to do something well can be referred to as the fine points or the finer points. See Thesaurus.com under the first entry of detail.

Also, in the context of an argument, the fine point is something subtle or abstruse.

There is also an idiom, (not) to put a fine point on something, to which the example may be referring, though it is less likely and without the rest of the context it is difficult to tell. The example from The Free Dictionary says:

something that you say when you are going to say exactly what you mean, even if other people may not like it. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's entirely your fault.

  • I don't see how anything in the Thesaurus.com link supports using "The fine point is..." to introduce either the details or a crucial point relevant to doing some particular thing "well". Jul 19, 2011 at 14:37
  • @FumbleFingers: The Thesarus reference was to point out that fine point was listed as a synonym for detail.
    – Spare Oom
    Jul 21, 2011 at 21:20
  • I certainly agree that definition, plus I like your mention of not to put too fine a point on it, even though I don't think that usage relates to OP's. My point is I was suspicious of The fine point as written by OP, but after listening carefully to the video link (at 1m 45s) I realised the guy said points anyway. Effectively, your context of an argument definition. I'm disappointed there's only one acceptance and one upvote between both of us, but I'm going to amend my answer to reflect what I now think, regardless of whether anyone ever looks at this one again. Jul 21, 2011 at 21:59
  • @FumbleFingers I hadn't been notified of the link. Robusto answered the question in his later comment.
    – Spare Oom
    Jul 22, 2011 at 11:15
  • I'm ashamed to say I didn't even read @Robusto's second comment before revising my answer, let alone before writing it the first time. You're quite right, though - he said all that was necessary. But I think structurally on ELU it has to go in an Answer somewhere, or future visitors might be like me and never notice it! Jul 22, 2011 at 17:20

The trouble in this phrase is the definite article. To say "'the' fine point is" without a contextual scale effectively insinuates there is no finer point, which is absurd unless one is referring to a geometric point, which is, by definition, infinitely small.

However, compared to my previous, verbose discourse the finer point of my argument is that context matters.

To say "not to put too fine a point on it" insinuates that the nuance being declared may seem excessively precise, but the sharpness of the distinction is relevant and worthy of attention.

To say "the finer points" insinuates that there are more and less nuanced degrees of substance; some more general, some more specific. A general point of swimming may be to "propel through other". In contrast to this general nuance, finer points of swimming may deal with swimming through a mass of water, or people, or thoughts, etc. An even finer point in the context of water might be related to the degree and finesse in technique using one's body, whether for endurance, speed, synchronization, grace, power, depth, etc., or to techniques in using technology, e.g., fins, weights, compressed air, etc.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but context matters, as so many others have already stated.

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