In German Kompetenzgerangel means a situation between either persons or organisations (typically: government agencies, or departments in a company) where there is a lack of clarity about competencies of the individual parties, and parties try to grab competencies or responsibilities that others claim for themselves.

I tried to find an expression for that in English which has, like Kompetenzgerangel, an air of ironic criticism of the (childish, immature) behaviour of those involved. However, dictionaries so far have not helped me. I found one suggestion: bickering over competencies but I do not know if I can trust the source.

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    'Bickering over competencies' is perfectly grammatical but far from being a collocation. 'Bickering' strongly connotes (at least) childishness. Jun 10, 2017 at 15:50
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    I have heard "interdepartmental rivalry" used to describe this, but it does not have the connotation of "ironic crticism of childish behaviour". Jun 10, 2017 at 16:02
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    Note that in English competence and competency tend to mean things like capability or skill rather than responsibility or power or legal authority, a common confusion in Eurospeak
    – Henry
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:43
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    What about "power struggle"? its more ambiguous, and very well could be a subtle thing that no one outside the company knows about.
    – woody121
    Jun 10, 2017 at 21:46
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    @Chris H As an Italian speaker and inhabitant, who has banged her head against many a wall, I think I am allowed to generalise about Italian behaviour and habits :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 11, 2017 at 6:39

5 Answers 5


If I understand correctly, this is called a turf battle or turf war. Oxford Dictionaries Online defines turf war (also turf battle) as:

An acrimonious dispute between rival groups over territory or a particular sphere of influence.

I perceive a turf battle as less serious than a turf war. These terms are definitely used for disputes between government agencies and between divisions in a company.

If you want to make it sound immature or childish, you could use turf squabble, which isn't anywhere near as common as turf battle or turf war, but which I can find using Google search; everybody would understand what it means, and perceive it as less serious than a turf battle (which itself isn't always used for serious disputes).

  • Thanks. Perhaps to clarify: Kompetenzgerangel somehow implies not all too ferocious a competition. In Kompetenzgerangel the dispute would typically remain a little bit under the table cloth, not visible to everybody. - As you say "acrimoniuos dispute", this seems to be pointing towards a more ferocious battle, right? Jun 10, 2017 at 15:51
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    See also land grab Jun 10, 2017 at 16:12
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    Turf battle and particularly turf battle bring to my (American) mind gang members killing each other more than white collar departments politicking. Jun 10, 2017 at 23:07
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    @XiongChiamiov I agree. It is often used in Britain to describe battles between rival drug gangs over who has the "rights" to a particular set of streets, or entertainment venue. I could imagine it being used for a battle between two government departments, but with a strong sense of irony.
    – WS2
    Jun 10, 2017 at 23:15
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    Turf war is common in Britain too. Turf battle isn't but is obvious.
    – Chris H
    Jun 11, 2017 at 6:33

Although a little uncouth:

Pissing contest

OED defines it as:

vulgar slang
A contest or rivalry in which the main concern of the parties involved is the conspicuous demonstration of superiority.

It is usually used in the context of unimportant matters/competencies.

I have head it used in polite circles and in business situations, but always in the pejorative sense.

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    Interesting contribution, although a little bit off-center. In Kompetenzgerangel it is indeed the central point who gets the responsibility for a certain task; whereas, it seems, in your pissing contest, responsibility for a task is completely unimportant, it is more a form of general assertion of power and dominance, right? Jun 11, 2017 at 10:20
  • @Christian yes. It's a childish "I'm better than you" contest measured by some skill that is irrelevant to the real issues at hand, and where someone being better at this skill carries no importance. In a literal sense it's a contest to determine who can piss the farthest, and similar in the figurative sense; a contest to determine who is the best at doing something that no one actually cares about.
    – Bohemian
    Jun 11, 2017 at 11:44

One option that is a little bit less casual sounding is jurisdictional dispute.

From jurisdiction:

  1. The extent or range of judicial or administrative power; the territory over which such power extends.
  • OED

This term usually refers to the realm of legal or executive power, but OED's definition 2 indicates that it can refer to a dispute over spheres of power more generally.

  1. Power or authority in general; administration, rule, control.
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    'Jurisdictional' typo in first line... too small for edit.
    – yankeekilo
    Jun 11, 2017 at 12:40

Power Play

power play 1. Tactics exhibiting or intended to increase a person's power or influence. ‘the sexual power play of their relationship’

fight for power is also translated as ger. Machtkampf. However power play might also mean "2. Offensive tactics in a team sport", especially in American English. It appears that the childish connotation of play is reduced to actually fair games, whereas the term power struggle might embrace a serious undertone.


Play the angles or work the angles

  1. (idiomatic) To seek ways to advance one's self-interest, especially by making choices in a calculating or crafty manner; to scheme.

2012 June 21, "Editorial: Sanctions Against Iran," New York Times (retrieved 27 Feb 2014): Iran, always playing the angles, is still trying to figure out how much economic pain it is willing to accept to maintain its nuclear ambitions and what, if anything, it is willing to give up.

Wiktionary "play the angles"

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