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I am trying to find a crisp translation of the German phrase "Pflicht und Kür. deepl.com yields "Duty and freestyle" as translation for "Pflicht und Kür" which irritated me.

In my (business) context "Pflicht" is understood as expected/required/obligatory actions/things, while "Kür" is understood as voluntary actions/things usually surpassing "Pflicht" with their quality/greatness. So freestyle feels a bit short here as it doesn't reflect the part where people are "going above and beyond/over deliver". (Thank you for your helpful comment @Ben A.)

Also I tried but failed to find a meaningful synonym to "freestyle" in my context, which is not "skating" but delivering projects.

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    Discernment? Selection? Creativity?
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 7, 2020 at 11:43
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    If you need it in the context of ice dancing etc., "duty and freestyle" is not irritating but suitable. But if you need it for general expressions I suggest "on-top performance".
    – Ben A.
    Feb 7, 2020 at 11:59
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    Please give a couple of sentences, with a gap, but also a paraphrase / explanation. ELU requires questions needing zero understanding of foreign terms, and 'a loose synonym for freestyle is unhelpful. And have you investigated suggested synonyms / loos synonyms? Feb 7, 2020 at 12:05
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    Why should it irritate? It is about "that which must follow a model" and "that which is freestyle."
    – Kris
    Feb 7, 2020 at 13:24
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    In a generalized understanding "Pflicht" are expected/required/obligatory actions/things, while "Kür" are voluntary actions/things usually surpassing "Pflicht" with their quality/greatness. So, "Kür" is more than freestyle here.
    – Ben A.
    Feb 7, 2020 at 14:35

4 Answers 4

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I don't know if you consider this crisp enough, but using

doing the bare minimum

for "Pflicht" versus

going the extra mile

for "Kür" would convey exactly the meaning you intend. These are both well-known English idioms.

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    "Going the extra mile" in the US. Do they say "going the extra kilometer" in the UK?
    – GEdgar
    Mar 10, 2020 at 17:56
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    @GEdgar You'd be surprised how much the UK still uses miles colloquially. Australia and New Zealand, not so much. But "going the extra distance" is also used.
    – Spencer
    Mar 10, 2020 at 17:59
  • Even in the US we still have stories about "Seven League Boots" or "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea", even though hardly anyone knows what a league is.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 10, 2020 at 18:21
  • 'Doing the bare minimum' is pejorative. 'Fulfilling one's obligations' is a less marked expression. If one is paid to work 8 hours, why should there be an expectation that people should do unpaid overtime? Aug 7, 2020 at 17:53
  • @EdwinAshworth Because that is the invariable nature of bosses.
    – Spencer
    Aug 7, 2020 at 19:21
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I think the difficulty you have with the given translation is caused more by the translation of 'pflicht' rather than the translation of 'kür'. The Collins Dictionary gives two translations for 'pflicht', the first is

duty

As you have seen but the second relates specifically to sport and is given as

compulsory section

Using the second translation 'Pflicht und Kür' becomes 'Compulsory section and freestyle' which could be written as 'compulsory and freestyle section' if the section is freestyle with compulsory elements or 'compulsory and freestyle sections' if it refers to two or more separate sections.

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I feel your frustration because I have been looking for a sweet-spot jiving translation of this idea from German into English several times already. Me being a native German speaker. This saying "Erst die Pflicht, dann die Kür" is taken from performance art sports, like figure skating and perhaps dancing and gymnastics. "Kür" has no other extant meaning in German really than to skillfully move about as in dancing, showing off one's technical skills in the most artfully intriguing way. In that context "Pflicht" is more specific than just "duty", it means your required moves and jumps you have to check off to show your skills in a technical run-down, where your freedom of interpretation and expression is limited, and only once you pass that, may you show of your double head-over spin backwards jump.

This is the meaning of the saying.

The only way to really translate it into English is to use at least one of the two contrasting words to really signify the performance art sports competition rules. If that is the word "freestyle" then so be it, unfortunately, however, freestyle has a wider meaning than German "Kür", as freestyle means you can move how you want (e.g., freestyle swimming race) but it doesn't connote so much the artful expression, the dancing that is implied by "Kür".

So there may just not be a translation that hits the sweet spot, which is probably the reason why this saying doesn't exist in English language, despite the sports reference readily available for English speakers. It just doesn't jive as it does in German, because "Kür" is a very unique word.

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  • It seems that "requirements" and "options" might fit these examples. Aug 27, 2021 at 17:44
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Hard to translate indeed, since it literally refers to short vs long program in figure skating, but who even knows that the athletic elements of the short program are predetermined for all competitors? The figurative use works in German because the difference is in the words themselves ("duty" vs "choice").

With that said, for a really crisp albeit colloquial analog, consider must-do vs can-do.

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