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Example from: ansehen (Wiktionary):

Was siehst du mich so an? Habe ich etwas Falsches gesagt?

I think the 1st sentence is asking "why are you looking at me like that?", in which case 'was' should be 'warum'. Am I wrong? Or can 'was' mean 'warum' in some situations?

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You and the sentence are both correct. There is a slightly different meaning compared to using "warum" - this question sounds more aggressive. –  Mörre Nov 28 '13 at 23:41
    
I've seen it used like that in teaching material but never in the "wild" –  thekeyofgb Nov 28 '13 at 23:42
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@thekeyofgb German here, it is a very aggressive question. Your angry wife or husband would ask it. –  Mörre Nov 28 '13 at 23:42
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Actually, let me modify my statement, it does not always have to be very aggressive. It is stronger compared to the same question with "warum" though, which is more neutral. It's sufficient when you know how to use "warum", I can't think of a situation where you would have to use "was". –  Mörre Nov 29 '13 at 0:45
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Was kuckst Du? –  user unknown Nov 29 '13 at 16:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to DWDS (I.1.d), was can have the special meaning warum in colloquial language. In contrast to the connotationally neutral warum, was bears the connotation of demanding a justification of ones action. This might be (sligtly) aggressive, as in your example, or plain as in

Was schleicht ihr euch nachts noch hier herum? (Teacher to his students during class trip)

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Oder "Was guckst du?"... da wäre es glaub' ich sogar irritierend zu hören "Ey, warum guckst duß" –  Emanuel Nov 29 '13 at 10:44
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„Was guckst du?“ würde ich unter Vernachlässigung der Betonung aber auch erst mal aggressiv verstehen. –  Toscho Nov 29 '13 at 12:41
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Oft ist es eine rhetorische Frage, die v.a. bedeutet: Kuck nicht (so (lange))! Das Anschauen selbst kann als Grenzverletzung wahrgenommen werden, als Provokation. Es kann aber auch ein Missverständnis sein bzw. ein Vorwand, eine körperliche Auseinandersetzung anzuzetteln. –  user unknown Nov 29 '13 at 16:57

I don't think the sentence is grammatically sound.

However, it is used in practice. Here, it is short for: "Was ist der Grund dafür, dass du mich so ansiehst?"

In that sense, yes, it is a replacement for "Warum".

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It does seem pretty colloquial, but it actually is sound: duden.de/rechtschreibung/was_warum_wie_inwiefern –  Mac Nov 29 '13 at 9:13

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