Advent Calendar 7 – “Something to chew on”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: December 17, 2020

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


  • 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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