Advent Calendar 7 – “Something to chew on”

Something to chew on

Hello everyone,

it is Monday …. moment of silence, please….
and it’s day 7 of our Advent Calendar. And the headline sounds like it’ll be a quiz. But nope – today we’ll actually talk about a word you’ll hopefully not need at Christmas dinner.
And no, I don’t mean “disowned“.
I am talking about

zäh

And yup, that’s how you should say it. You see, usually, in many regions of Germany, people tend to pronounce the “ä” as a normal “e”.
For instance, I say write “Käse” but I say “Keese”.
For zäh, however, that doesn’t work because German also has the Word Zeh, which means toe.
So for zäh, you really have to do this overarticulate ähhh sound.
And this way of pronouncing it really fits what it stands for, and the best example for something zäh is an overcooked chewy steak. It’s not exactly “hard” but it’s hard to break apart.
That’s pretty much what zäh is and it actually has a pretty well known relative in English… tough.
Tough is a lot broader in meaning, and way more common. But still zäh is also used in quite the range of contexts, from steaks to meetings to boring lectures to just people’s character in general.

  • Das Fleisch ist sehr zäh.
  • The meat is very chewy.
  • Die Mitte des Films war ein bisschen zäh.
  • The middle of the movie was a bit of a drag.

  • “Ich glaube, du hast zu viel Zucker in deinen Kaffee gemacht.”
    “Warum denkst du das?”
    “Er ist zäh-flüssig.”
  • “I think you put too much sugar in your coffee.”
    “Why do you think that?”
    “Because it’s viscous.”

  • Auf der A10, Berliner Ring, zur Zeit zäh-fließender Verkehr.
  • On the Highway A10, Berliner Ring, currently slow moving traffic.
  • “Wie geht Maria mit den Hatern auf ihrem Youtube-Channel um?”
    “Ach, die ist sehr zäh.”
  • “How does Maria deal with the haters on her Youtube-channel?”
    “Oh, she’s very sturdy.”

As you can see, zäh can be a translation for many words and it won’t always fit. But I think the image of a chewy steak is a very good guideline.
Besides zäh itself, there’s also the noun die Zähigkeit, and then there’s the verb erzählen. Experts and scientists will say it is not related to zäh, but to zählen (count) and tell. 
But my experience is… like… when my girlfriend tells me about her day that feels very very zäh. So there MUST be a connection. I mean… I can feel it in my gut, and certainly trust my gut more than some random expert, who doesn’t even know me.
Meh… we’ll never know who’s right, I guess.
Anyway, that’s it for today. Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow :)

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Randall
Randall
1 year ago

Prima!

Victoria Martinez
Victoria Martinez
1 year ago

Thank you Emanuel. Very helpful! Always love your work. Your clarification about “die” vs ”sie” explained my question too.

Camille
Camille
1 year ago

This article is the perfect length for a daily post!!!!

Parisbongi
Parisbongi
1 year ago

Ich mag das, eigentlich sehr nützlich. Danke!

Parisbongi
Parisbongi
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich habs, danke

Ahmad Mazaheri
Ahmad Mazaheri
1 year ago

Hallo lieber Emmanuel,
Ich habe nie bemerkt daß Zäh/ tough. und Zeh / toe. sind fast homonyme , doch mit unterschiedlicher Sinne . Denn Aussprache und gute Artikulation zählen !
Bis Morgen

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

“Zäh” kommt sehr oft im Gespräch vor. In der Alltagssprache spricht man das Wort allerdings als “zah” in Österreich aus. Ich vermute, dass das auch für Süddeutschland gilt.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago

For long e vs. ä, I learned this Zungenbrecher in a German class once:

  • Denen Dänen, denen Dänen Dänen dehnen, dehnen deren Dänen.

Not even sure how to visualize that, but it sounds unpleasant. (Google turns up a few variations, but I think that’s the version I learned.)

How does zäh compare with the loanword tough / taff when describing a person?

Padraig
Padraig
1 year ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

No problem I should think, ‘zäh wie Leder” zum Beispiel.

Glück zu!

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah, I don’t know if I can work it out grammatically either… I think maybe there could be a Dänen missing? So like:

  • Denen Dänen, denen [or deren?] Dänen Dänen dehnen, dehnen Dänen deren Dänen.
st4rseeker
st4rseeker
1 year ago

Hello, Emmanuel! Beginner here. I’ve been following your blog and I must say that it is my favorite learning resource ever. I have a simple question.

“Wie geht Maria mit den Hatern auf ihrem Youtube-Channel um?”
“Ach, die ist sehr zäh.”

Why did you use “die” instead of “sie”? Are they interchangable or is there a certain rule or nuance to it?

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
1 year ago

Etymologie ist zäh. Hahaha!

Guten Morgen! Heute habe ich vor mir eine zähe Zugfahrt zurück nach Schweden von Hamburg. Es gibt Maskenpflicht die ganze 4.5-stündige Reise. Bis morgen!

Jamie
Jamie
1 year ago

Ich liebe die deutsche sprache, weil sie zäh ist…schwer zu schneiden, aber mit Geduld im Mund zufriedigend

Jamie
Jamie
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Danke.