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A literal translation of "savoir faire" might be "to know what to do."

But does it apply to knowledge, skill, "polish," or something similar?

And is the English word "savvy," which appears to be a "cognate," a good translation for it?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Savoir-faire is a canonical phrase meaning that one knows how to do something. It does apply to knowledge, but more for hands-on knowledge or skill than general knowledge, as faire does mean "to do". So as you pointed it our, it's like "to know what/how to do".

Savoir-faire is used as noun only and can be understood as a set of skills or general knowledge of what to do in a situation.

Although is can be used as is in English, I think the more appropriate translation and concept in English is know-how, but savvy is also in the right direction.

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"Savvy" can be a noun, verb or adjective in (American) English. It's a bit confusing. –  Tom Au Feb 23 '13 at 22:06
    
@TomAu Ah, I see... let me try to rephrase then. –  Kareen Feb 23 '13 at 22:09
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I think "savvy" is more about being "well-informed" and "in the know", whereas "savoir-faire" is really about knowing how to do something (a craft). For instance, "Le savoir-faire des fromagers français." refers to French cheesemakers' mastery of their craft, not to savviness. –  a3nm Feb 23 '13 at 22:37
    
@a3nm: That's what I want to find out. –  Tom Au Mar 20 '13 at 23:17
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