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See also: Finesse



From Middle English fīnesse (degree of excellence; (of metal) fineness, purity), from Middle French finesse, Old French finesse (fineness; delicacy; slenderness),[1] from fine, fin (fine, thin) (from Latin fīnis (end); compare Middle English fīn (of superior quality; precious, valuable; admirable, pleasing; pure, refined; fineness, purity; delicate, exquisite, fine; sharp, thin))[2] + -esse (suffix forming nouns describing the condition of being something).[3]

The verb is derived from the noun.[4]



finesse (countable and uncountable, plural finesses)

  1. (uncountable) Skill in the handling or manipulation of a situation. [from c. 1520]
    Synonym: finessing
    • 1829, Moses Greenleaf, “Grants and Sales of Land”, in A Survey of the State of Maine, in Reference to Its Geographical Features, Statistics and Political Economy, Portland, Me.: Published by Shirley and Hyde, OCLC 1004241200; reprinted Augusta, Me.: Maine State Museum, June 1970, OCLC 299617378, page 340:
      It is not impossible that this bold attempt to wrest from this State and Nation, so large and important a frontier territory; with the insidious arts, and unblushing finesse and chicanery, with which the British pretensions have been managed, may yet awaken the American people from their apathy on the subject— []
    • 1830, Walter Scott, chapter II, in Tales of a Grandfather; being Stories Taken from Scottish History. [] In Three Vols. (Third Series), volume III, Edinburgh: Printed [by Ballantyne and Company, []] for Cadell and Co.; London: Simpkin and Marshall; Dublin: John Cumming, OCLC 270782151, page 68:
      When Lovat finally took the resolution of dispatching his son, with the best part of his clan, to the assistance of Charles Edward, a resolution which was not adopted without much hesitation and many misgivings, he feigned, with characteristic finesse, an apology for his march.
    • 1836, De Voltaire; Abner Kneeland, “FINESSE, FINENESS, &c.: Of the Different Significations of This Word”, in [J[ohn] G. Gorton], transl., A Philosophical Dictionary; from the French of M. de Voltaire. With Additional Notes, both Critical and Argumentative, 1st American stereotype edition, Boston, Mass.: Printed and Published by J[ohn] Q[uincey] Adams, OCLC 219359511, page 344, column 1:
      Finesse is not exactly subtlety; we draw a person into a snare with finesse; we escape from it with subtlety. We act with finesse, and we play a subtle trick. Distrust is inspired by an unsparing use of finesse; yet we almost always deceive ourselves if we too generally suspect it.
    • 1840, John Lingard, chapter I, in A History of England, from the First Invasion by the Romans. [...] Complete in Eight Volumes, volume IV, 5th edition, Paris: A[nthony] & W[illiam] Galignani and Co., [], OCLC 669306262, page 29:
      The Treaty of Madrid called into action the diplomatic finesse, or rather the low cunning of the English cabinet.
  2. (uncountable) The property of having elegance, grace, refinement, or skill. [from mid 16th c.]
    • 1791, J[ohn] Long, “Visit Fort George.—Remarkable Instance of Courage in a Mohawk Indian.—Return to England.—Enter into a New Engagement, and Return to Canada, with Merchandise for the Indian Commerce.”, in Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, Describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians; [], London: Printed for the author; and sold by Robson, [], OCLC 210037535, page 164:
      An Indian known by the name of Silver Heels, from his superior agility, as well as his admirable finesse in the art of war, and who had killed more of the enemy than any one of the tribes in alliance with Great Britain, accidentally came into the fort just before the soldier was to receive his punishment, and expressed his displeasure that a man should be so shamefully disgraced.
  3. (countable) An adroit manoeuvre. [from mid 16th c.]
    • 1836, S[ereno] E[dwards] Dwight, “The Law of Incest”, in The Hebrew Wife: Or The Law of Marriage Examined in Relation to the Lawfulness of Polygamy and to the Extent of the Law of Incest, New York, N.Y.: Leavitt, Lord & Co., []; Boston, Mass.: Crocker & Brewster, OCLC 256964559, page 181:
      The first inroads on our laws of incest were made at the instigation, and by the secret management, of some of our "prime nobles," who had either seduced, or married, or pledged themselves to marry a wife's sister; and who wished by this finesse, to escape, at once, public odium and personal responsibility; []
    • 1984, Gregory Paul P. Meyjes, “An Auxiliary Language for the World: General Outline”, in The Choice of an Auxiliary Language for the World: Perspectives within the Context of Contemporary Linguistics, [Munich]: GRIN Verlag; Open Publishing GmbH, →ISBN, section (All Kinds of Linguistics Communication), page 6:
      [A] simplified version of English, called Basic English, [] is mainly intended for tangibles like business and scientific cooperation, and the designer of which renounces the intention of catering for the finesses of cultural exchange or diplomacy.
  4. (countable, card games) In bridge, whist, etc.: a technique which allows one to win a trick, usually by playing a card when it is thought that a card that can beat it is held by another player whose turn is over. [from early 18th c.]
    • 1850, “Short Whist: Its System and Science”, in Henry G[eorge] Bohn, editor, The Hand-book of Games: Comprising New or Carefully Revised Treatises on Whist, Piquet, Ecarté, Lansquenet, Boston, Quadrille, Cribbage, and Other Card Games; [] (Bohn’s Scientific Library), London: Henry G[eorge] Bohn, [], OCLC 1132969, part IV (Whist by the Editor), page 185:
      The Finesse Proper.—When, upon the invite of your partner, you refuse to force with your strongest card, or one of equal strength, you are in the case of the finesse proper. Holding the ace, queen, and ten, and taking with the queen, is a simple finesse; that is, a finesse to the king.
    • 2013 October 22, Joe Blatnick, “Finesses (One More Time)”, in Bridge: A Thinker’s Game: How You Think is More Important than What and Thinking Comes before Doing, Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, →ISBN, page 134:
      Here we are going to examine finesses from a negative standpoint. Those players who take finesses wherever and whenever they appear will seldom give any thought to what might happen if the finesse were to lose. And this is why taking or shunning a finesse is an option which shouldn't be exercised without much prior thought.



finesse (third-person singular simple present finesses, present participle finessing, simple past and past participle finessed)

  1. (transitive, chiefly Canada, US, politics) To evade (a problem, situation, etc.) by using some clever argument or strategem.
    • 1876, “Government and Laws”, in William Harcus, editor, South Australia: Its History, Resources, and Productions, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, [], OCLC 954234719, page 38:
      It is said that democratic institutions necessarily lead to political corruption. I can only say that it has not been so in this Colony. Members have schemed, finessed, log-rolled, to serve their districts, but never to put money in their own pockets.
    • 2013, James F[ranklin] Harris, “The Supreme Court”, in The Serpentine Wall: The Winding Boundary between Church and State in the United States, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, →ISBN, part III (Church and State in the Modern United States), page 185:
      The founders deliberately finessed other issues concerning religion and the relationship between church and state to ensure the ratification of the Constitution.
    • 2015, Howard M[orley] Sachar, “The Death of Giacomo Matteotti”, in The Assassination of Europe, 1918–1942: A Political History, Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, →ISBN, page 82:
      [] Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George finessed the distinction between "indemnification" and "reparations" by insisting that his government's pension payments to the families of fallen soldiers should also be categorized as 'civilian" damages, thus making the recipients eligible for "reparations" to the tune of at least $110 billion [].
  2. (transitive, card games) To play (a card) as a finesse. [from mid 18th c.]
    • 1864, Cavendish [pseudonym; Henry Jones], “The Third Hand”, in The Laws and Principles of Whist Stated and Explained, and Its Practice Illustrated on an Original System, by Means of Hands Played Completely through, 7th edition, London: Bancks Brothers [], OCLC 33902807, part I (General Principles), page 42:
      The ace is certainly to your left, you therefore finesse the ten, for if your left-hand adversary holds ace and knave he must make them both; but otherwise, your ten forces the ace, and you are left with the best.
    • 1874 March 1, “Whist Jottings—Stupidity”, in The Westminster Papers. A Monthly Journal of Chess, Whist, Games of Skill, and the Drama, volume VI, London: W. Kent & Co., [], and W. W. Morgan, []; Edinburgh: J. Menzies & Co.; Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, OCLC 149740378, page 235:
      Again, no amount of writing, and apparently no amount of practice, will induce a player to see that it is not always right to finesse an Ace Queen. We have seen all the trumps out. We have led a suit (Hearts) of which our partner had Ace, Queen, and two long Clubs; he finessed the Queen, and did not make his two Clubs. [] Twice in a fortnight have we have the Ace Queen finessed when two cards only remained in each hand and one trump was in.
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To handle or manage carefully or skilfully; to manipulate in a crafty way. [from mid 18th c.]
    Synonym: zhoosh (slang)
    • 1835, chapter XIV, in Finesse. [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, London: Richard Bentley, [], OCLC 557380777, page 240:
      Distressed as she was, she rose the next morning determined to contend with her feelings,—to think no more of Trevor,—and to finesse no more for a husband—she had had enough of it.
    • 2010 May, Kim Atkinson, “Working among the Good & Bad”, in Island Parent Magazine[1], Victoria, B.C.: Krayenhoff-Holland Enterprises, ISSN 0838-5505, OCLC 1081082451, archived from the original on 5 February 2019; quoted in Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw; Fikile Nxumalo; Laurie Kocher; Enid Elliot; Alejandra Sanchez, “Thinking Together”, in Journeys: Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Practices through Pedagogical Narration, Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2015, →ISBN, page 128:
      As the children continue to shoot one another, I ask them some questions about guns. [] [M]ost revealing to me is that the children fully agree that they are playing a pretend game. The bad guys "really hurt people" and Freddie knows it because he "plays" it. Really hurting in pretend play … the children are not confused by this finessing of real and pretend. I think it is we adults who are confused by it.
    • 2011, Yael Braha; Bill Byrne, quoting Stacy Nimmo, “The Essentials of Typography and Time [Interview: Stacy Nimmo on Title Design]”, in Creative Motion Graphic Titling for Film, Video, and the Web, Burlington, Mass.; Kidlington, Oxfordshire: Focal Press, →ISBN, page 108:
      When we get the script and we have a piece that's being written to or being created around a voiceover, we'll generally do a scratch voiceover track here and time it out to that, then get the real voiceover and do some finessing there.
    • 2015, Nylora[-Joy] Bruleigh, “Just beyond Reach: Lighting, Posing, and Styling; Postproduction”, in Fine Art Portrait Photography: Lighting, Posing & Postproduction from Concept to Completion, Buffalo, N.Y.: Amherst Media, →ISBN, page 62:
      After making the original capture [], I sat down to finesse it in Photoshop.
    • 2017 March 30, Kendrick Duckworth; Michael Williams II; Asheton Hoga (lyrics and music), “Humble”, in Damn, performed by Kendrick Lamar:
      Finesse a nigga with some counterfeits, but now I'm countin' this / Parmesan where my accountant lives, in fact I'm downin' this
  4. (intransitive, card games) To attempt to win a trick by finessing. [from mid 18th c.]
    • 1864, Cavendish [pseudonym; Henry Jones], “The Third Hand”, in The Laws and Principles of Whist Stated and Explained, and Its Practice Illustrated on an Original System, by Means of Hands Played Completely through, 7th edition, London: Bancks Brothers [], OCLC 33902807, part I (General Principles), page 41:
      In the first round of a suit, you should generally, / 8. PLAY YOUR HIGHEST CARD THIRD HAND. / a. In order to strengthen your partner. You presume that he leads from his strong suit, and wants to get the winning cards of it out of his way []; you, therefore, do not finesse [], but play your highest, remembering that you play the lowest of a sequence []. With ace, queen (and, of course, ace, queen, knave, &c., in sequence) you do finesse, for, in this case, if the king is in the fourth hand, it must make, unless single, which is very improbable; and by putting on the ace, you make the king good, if against you.
  5. (intransitive, croquet, obsolete) To play a ball out of the way of an opponent.
    • 1870 August, Cavendish [pseudonym; Henry Jones], “Croquet in 1870”, in The Gentleman’s Magazine, volume V (New Series), London: W. H. Allen & Co., [], OCLC 320982087, page 308:
      Blue finesses to the further boundary, intending to come to his partner next time with black, hoping that if yellow comes after these balls, he may pass the boundary and so lose the break. [] Black has now to play; he finesses to another boundary.

Derived terms[edit]

Terms derived from finesse (verb)



  1. ^ fīnesse, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 7 October 2018; “finesse” in Lexico,; Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ fīn, adj.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 7 October 2018.
  3. ^ finesse, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2016.
  4. ^ finesse, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2016.

Further reading[edit]



finesse f (plural finesses)

  1. fineness (of hair, writing etc.)
  2. thinness
  3. keenness, sharpness (of blade)
  4. fineness, delicacy; slenderness
  5. perceptiveness; sensitivity, finesse

Further reading[edit]