There are two translations for
toe that both are equally used. Both are pronounced almost the same but they have a different gender:
der Zeh, m
die Zehe, f
What is the origin of this difference?
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I don't know why there are two forms of this word. According to Wictionary people from northern Germany tend to use
Zehe is more common in central and southern regions.
There is a difference when referring to "Knoblauch" (garlic) though. You'll have to use "Zehe": die Knoblauchzehe ("clove of garlic").
It happens more often that two words with this difference in morphology and gender exist, even more so in regional dialects, usually the longer word is the more formally correct word.
(I think that this is also the reason that French loanwords ending in -age are female because they are felt to be an -e expansion of the male French prononciation).
der Schaumspitz, die Spitze
der Dreizack, die Zacke
der Heuschreck, die Heuschrecke
der Zeck, die Zecke
In the first two cases, the shorter male version is mostly used in composita, so I gave them as example, in the other two examples, the male vesion are regional variants.
It's a regional difference. "der Zeh" is used in the Northern regions of Germany, whereas "die Zehe" is used in the Southern regions.
Both are correct, and there is no difference in meaning. Just an example about the inconsistency of a living language.
My Duden (1986 -- I know!!) allows both:
Zehe, die; -, -n, (auch:) Zeh, der; -s, -en; die kleine, große Zehe, der kleine, große Zeh
I'm going to take an educated guess:
According to the Duden, Zehe comes from zēhe and zēha. Dropping of the final e is something that is not uncommon in many dialects (Wehe and Weh, Gabe and Gab). Why exactly Zeh permeated I don't know.