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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

In cases such as this, "was" is actually synonymous with "etwas". Cf. definition III:

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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
But there is a difference in meaning - same as in english. In the first case i want to tell sombody something and hope it's new or solves a problem. "Unser Herd ist kaputt." - "Weißt du was? Wir kochen nicht, wir gehen einfach essen." this is colloquial, accentuation is on "was". In the second case i want to know if someone heard rumors or knows facts unknown to me. "Peter geht es wohl nicht gut." - "Wieso? Weißt du (et)was?" meaning 'have you heard/seen/read something?' The accentuation here is on "Weißt" – user22338 Jul 6 at 15:21

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