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

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

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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

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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
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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:

bissel
bisserl
bissle
chli biss
...and many more

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I'm Swiss German and I can't say Biss has the meaning of wedge to me. –  Tass 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
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