German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've always interpreted "bisschen" as just meaning "a little".

Does it come from the diminuative of "der Biss" (the bite)?

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The German Wiktionary writes about its linguistic origin with reference to Johann Christoph Adelung: Grammatisch-kritisches Wörterbuch der hochdeutschen Mundart:

entstanden aus der Diminutivform des Substantivs Biss; es bedeutet somit also: Gerade soviel, wie man auf einmal (mit einem Biss) abbeißt. Adelung stellt den Wandel der Diminutivform „Bißchen“ (Ein Bißchen Brot / Ein Bißchen Wein) zum Nebenwort „bischen“ dar

So, it comes from the diminutive form of „der Biss“: das Bisschen = little bite

share|improve this answer
or... "little bit". wow! – nibot Oct 22 '12 at 20:02
Yes: the English bit is also derived (in around the 16th century, according to the OED) from bite, in the sense of a bite of food. – PLL Oct 22 '12 at 21:56

Actually both meaning, and usage of "ein bisschen" is very similar to the English "a bit" (vs. "bit/bite"). Likewise we also know the "little bit" in German: "ein kleines bisschen". Note that it originated form a diminutive of "Biss" but it is not used as a noun in this context, seen by the lowercase spelling in its present usage as a pronoun. When used as a noun "ein Bisschen" in the meaning of a little bite we have to spell it with an uppercase initial.

Both the English bit, and the German Biss share the same etymologic root with the Indo-European bheid- (splitting something with an axe). Interestingly in Swiss German "Mundart" the meaning of Biss was a wedge.

Regionally there is quite some variation for bisschen:

chli biss
...and many more

share|improve this answer
I'm Swiss German and I can't say Biss has the meaning of wedge to me. – Reactormonk Oct 23 '12 at 6:00
@Tass: thank you for the note - I found this in the Schweizerisches Idiotikon linked to above. This Mundart meaning (like others) are sadly in the process of getting lost over time. – Takkat Oct 23 '12 at 6:09

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.