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What does the phrase "dann doch noch schnell" mean? As in

Ich habe mir heute dann doch noch schnell einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft.

is this some kind of an idiom?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

DE-A: Ich habe mir einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft.

EN-A: I bought a new hard-shell suitcase.


DE-B: Ich habe mir dann einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft.

(Here dann/then is an adverb used to denote a point in time or a conjunctive with antecedent implied.)

EN-B: I then bought a new hard-shell suitcase.


DE-C1: Ich habe mir dann doch einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft. (dann denotes point in time.)

DE-C2: Ich habe mir [dann doch] einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft. (dann intensifies or rhythmicizes doch.)

(doch is a modal particle.)

EN-C1: I then bought a new hard-shell suitcase , after all.

EN-C2: I went and bought a new hard-shell suitcase , after all.

So far, so good.


DE-D: Ich habe mir [dann doch] [noch schnell] einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft.

(noch schnell is an adverbial phrase; good explanation of noch schnell here.)

EN-D: At the last minute, I did buy a new hard-shell suitcase.


Translating (A) through (C) was straightforward, but (D) required some rearranging. The import of the modal particle doch that before was translated to after all now is expressed by the auxiliary verb did, used as a marker for emphasis.

What happened to dann? Airbrushed out of the picture in the English translation... but no one misses it :) More seriously, the character of dann changed about halfway through this little sequence of constructive exercises, from a likely marker of a point in time to an enhancer for the modal particle doch.

But as with enhancers in food preparation (monosodium glutamate being the best known among them) opinions may differ as to their relevance. Some people complain if you leave MSG out, some get a headache, and others simply don't care or don't notice a difference.

If you asked a sample of Germans whether they would prefer the sentence DE-D with or without dann, most would prefer it with. They would justify their choice by explaining that dann intensifies doch and is therefore performing a function. However, if you asked them to come up with a situation where leaving out dann would make a difference in communication, they would be unable to come up with an example. Hence I think that people prefer dann doch to doch alone because they feel it rolls off the tounge more nicely and not because it changes the message in any way.

Although the Question did not ask specifically about translation into English, I used the above translation exercises in order to build from the simple to the complex. Hence it may not be out of place to note that [dann doch] is a good example of why it makes sense not to translate slavishly word for word.

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This answer is confusing and misleading. The meaning of the complete phrase "dann doch noch schnell" is not the sum of the meanings of the single words. In this phrase "dann" does not mean then but serves to intensify the "doch": "dann doch" signifies a change in opinion after a decision had been found and found to be good. "dann doch" signifies an unexpected change of mind, often against all reason. –  user1914 Mar 4 '13 at 13:24
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@what Presumably you agree with my interpretation (& xlation) of (A) thru (C) -- altho perhaps an alternative for (C) is "I went and bought a new hard-shell suitcase, after all." The dann in (C) could go either way, as a marker for a point in time or as an intensifier of doch. However, it can't be a time marker in (D) and you will surely agree that I did not see it as such. In fact, I decided that the emphasis carried by "did [aux. verb for emphasis]" + "buy" sufficed to express the impact of [dann doch] (note the square brackets). –  Eugene Seidel Mar 4 '13 at 14:13
    
Perhaps I should have been clearer that in my opinion, the difference between [doch] and [dann doch] is so slight that for the purpose of translation to English, the dann might as well not be there at all. Obviously it is possible to disagree on this point. –  Eugene Seidel Mar 4 '13 at 14:14
    
I can agree with that. Maybe you would like to edit your answer to make this meaning more clear? (I will be able to undo my downvote after an edit.) –  user1914 Mar 4 '13 at 14:18
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dann doch noch schnell

Is like "by the way" and can have can have several meanings.

For example: you thought about buying something but declined it. But when you are shopping and see the thing you did not want to buy but suddenly buy it, you can say "dann doch noch schnell".

Another example: you buy something earlier. You are going to buy something after you got your next earnings. But when you are shopping you buy it before you got your earning, you can say it as well.

One more example: You are buying something spontaneously.

Last example: you are buying something you did not expected to buy.

I gave you example with buying because your example was about buying something. You can transfer it to several things like doing something, organizing, watching...
And sometimes it has an ironic characteristic when something normally takes a long time.

And it is an idiom in context of a phrase.

I hope my answer was clear and helpful :D

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thanks! If I got you right, then it's like "on the way", when it wasn't the main intention but more of a by-product (that now possibly becomes the main topic). –  Ran G. Mar 2 '13 at 7:22
    
Yes that's correct too. Or what I mentioned when you do it earlier or if you do it even you declined it or something. –  j0chn Mar 2 '13 at 7:45
    
The part "schnell" means "on the way". the other parts have an own meaning like "yet": He didn't want to do it in first place, yet he did it afterwards. = Er wollte es erst nicht tun, aber er tat es dann doch noch. So the OP's example sentence implies, that there orginally was some kind of hesitance to buy. –  Toscho Mar 2 '13 at 8:03
    
Sorry, but the whole chunk dann doch noch schnell is certainly more and something else than "by the way"... and speaking of that "by the way" have anyway? –  Emanuel Mar 2 '13 at 20:34
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You have to break it down: dann | doch noch | schnell

dann = then, schnell = quickly/swiftly/in passing/

The collocation 'doch noch' (roughly: 'yet still, after all') is used to express that an action or event takes place unexpectedly after it had already been deemed unlikely, impossible, or undesirable given particular circumstances or a development of a situation, e.g. time running out, a bad start, a previous negative decision, prognosis, or a desired state.

In your example sentence, the narrator might have previously decided that they had no time to buy a suitcase or that it wasn't necessary, but still bought one in spite of that.

«Er hatte schlechte Noten, schaffte es aber dann doch noch auf die Universität.» (He had bad grades, but, at the end, he still made it into university.)

«Zuerst war er unerträglich arrogant. Er änderte sich aber mit der Zeit, und wir sind dann doch noch die besten Freunde geworden.» (He was unbearably arrogant at first, but he changed with time and then we still became best friends.)

However, 'doch noch' can occur outside this collocation, e.g.: «Aber ich habe doch | noch nie | etwas Böses getan!» (But I've | never yet | done anything evil!) Here the main collocation is 'noch nie' (never yet), while 'doch' has the role of a modal particle as used in colloquial speech to emphasize the claim expressed in the sentence ('But, I've never yet/ever done anything evil as a matter of fact, so, why would I be blamed/punished?')

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So according to Eugene Seidel's and TehMacDawg's answer, there are two possible ways to interpret and consequently structure and translate "dann doch noch schnell".

  • Variant A: dann|doch|noch schnell (see Eugene Seidel).
  • Variant B: dann|doch noch|schnell (see TehMacDawg).

The difference is small:

  • Variant A stresses the temporal aspect: "noch schnell" meaning rather "at the last minute" than simply "fast, quickly".
  • Variant B stresses the modal aspect: "doch noch" expressing, that the original intention/decision was more fixed yet reversed than the simple "doch" resp. that the revision was less likely.

Although undecidable in written form, both forms can possibly be differentiated in verbal form:

  • In Variant A, the pause between "doch" and "noch" is lengthend a little bit.
  • In Variant B, the same pause is shortened, seemingly combining "doch" and "noch" to one word "dochnoch".
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In the version "doch noch | schnell", "schnell" does not mean quickly but spontaneously, so that the overall meaning of this subphrase is: I spontaneously changed my mind, while the subphrase "doch | noch schnell" means I changed my mind in the last minute. –  user1914 Mar 4 '13 at 13:16
    
The "schnell" in "doch noch | schnell" could mean spontaneously, but it could also mean "without much hussle". –  Toscho Mar 4 '13 at 17:59
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Es ist keine fest stehende Phrase, wie man leicht zeigen kann. Ausgangspunkt ist dieser Satz:

Ich habe mir heute dann doch noch schnell einen neuen Hartschalenkoffer gekauft.

bei dem das heute, das neu und die Hartschalen wenig zur Problemlage beitragen und samt dem mir entfernt werden können:

Ich habe dann doch noch schnell einen Koffer gekauft.

Wir können nun jedes einzelne Wort der Kombination entfernen, und erhalten immer wieder übliche Aussagen, die nur leicht modifiziert sind durch das jeweils fehlende Wort:

  • Ich habe dann doch noch einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe dann doch schnell einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe dann noch schnell einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe doch noch schnell einen Koffer gekauft.

Ebenso kann man zwei Wörter streichen:

  • Ich habe dann doch _ _ einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe dann _ noch _ einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe dann _ _ schnell einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe _ doch noch _ einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe _ doch _ schnell einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe _ _ noch schnell einen Koffer gekauft.

Auch drei Wörter lassen sich löschen:

  • Ich habe dann einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe doch einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe noch einen Koffer gekauft.
  • Ich habe schnell einen Koffer gekauft.

Und auch alle vier:

Ich habe einen Koffer gekauft.

Das zeigt, dass dann doch noch schnell keine Phrase ist, sondern einfach die Kombination der vier Worte. Die Bedeutung hat Eugene Seidel gut dargestellt. Dann ordnet das Ereignis zeitlich nach einem anderen ein, doch besagt, dass es erst nicht so geplant war, noch dass es nicht die einzige Reisevorbereitung war, und schnell, dass es in Hast geschah.

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See my comment to Eugene Seidel's answer. "Dann" is not temporal here but signifies a conversion of the situation described precedingly. Emanuel caught the meaning of "dann doch" well with despite previous plans. –  user1914 Mar 4 '13 at 13:31
    
Ich meine, dass das dann implizit sehr wohl eine zeitliche Abfolge markiert - erst sollte kein Koffer gekauft werden, dann (später) doch. Hier ist kein Kontext gegeben, so dass der Spekulation Tür und Tor geöffnet ist. Erst wollte ich einen Seesack kaufen - dann doch einen Hartschalenkoffer. Montags noch hielt ich fest an meinem ästhetisch begründeten Protest gegen Hartschalen, die die einzige Kofferform in Bad Ischl war - dann dienstags doch Hartschalen. Wenn das previous in despite previous plans oder das precedingly nicht temporal sind - was sind sie dann? ... –  user unknown Mar 4 '13 at 18:45
    
Das dann kann an dieser Stelle nicht durch sonst substituiert werden, wie im letzten Satz meines Kommentars, sondern nur durch ein später, oder täusche ich mich? –  user unknown Mar 4 '13 at 18:46
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Here is my try. All in italic is what the following [words] express/ feel like to me.

Well, after all (and despite previous plans) [dann and doch] I (actually) did [doch again] buy a suitcase just/right [schnell] before I did that other thing else/something else happened (that the listener probably knows about[noch].

I tried to capture the tone that each word adds. I am aware of the fact that this isn't really what an English native speaker would say.

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Summing up my comments to the other answers, "dann doch noch schnell" means:

  1. "dann": a conversion of the situation as it was described precedingly
  2. "doch": the change concerns a decision that had been made on the grounds of careful rational deliberation, while the change is based on a gut feeling and against all reason
  3. "noch": either (as particle) intensifies "doch" or (as adverb) changes the meaning of "schnell":
    • "schnell": spontaneously
    • "noch schnell": at the last minute

I should add that this is my subjective opinion of what I want to say when I use that phrase. Other users might come from a different meaning and express it in the same words. Language, after all, is not an exact science.

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