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In English, there are two idioms with the same meaning:

  • "You know what?" ("Weißt du was?")
  • "You know something?" ("Weißt du etwas?")

The "etwas" in the latter German phrase could conceivably be shortened to "'was". In fact, Duden writes:

weißt du was? (= weißt du etwas?)

Is there a way, e.g. etymologically, to find out whether the "was" in "Weißt du was?" really is an "etwas"?

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Maybe it's possible to derive it: dwds: etwas: "Etwas" : generally referred to an unspecified "Bestimmtes", shortened to "was". Synonyms: irgendetwas , irgend was (ugs). old high german: eddes(h) waӡ (8. Jh.), edde(h) waӡ (um 1000), mhd. et(e)**waӡ*, eteswaӡ. Remarkable: always two syllables. Pure assumption: If you talk colloquial, you'll "swallow" some syllables, so over the time it became common speech. !only assumption -> comment –  infinitesimalLeanne Aug 2 '11 at 14:48

1 Answer 1

In cases such as this, "was" is actually synonymous with "etwas". Cf. definition III: http://de.pons.eu/dict/search/results/?q=was&in=&kbd=de&l=deen

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There is indeed no difference in meaning. It's more of an academic question. –  Tim Aug 2 '11 at 7:20

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