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I’ve seen what I believe is a German expression/idiom twice, in two slightly different forms:

eine Begrüßung, die es in sich hat

and

die Begrüßung hatte es in sich

but I can’t find an explanation online. Am I correct that this is an idiom (commonly used or otherwise)? If so, what is the meaning?

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Literally taken, "es in sich haben" means there's more "in" (to) something than can be seen on first sight from an outside view or what was or would be initially expected. Or even more literally, there is more, or a different or surprising contents in something.

Dieser Schnaps hat's in sich

Dein Kaffee hat's ganz schön in sich

could refer to some more alcohol/caffeine than expected.

Das Projekt hat's in sich

would denote there are more problems/challenges than expected.

Die Matheaufgabe hat es in sich

Could be exceptionally difficult, but could also be generating exceptional new insights.

I wouldn't necessarily say the expression is meant to have a negative sense though (at least if you don't generally see the unexpected as negative) - It just says that there's more to something than what was expected at first sight or considered "normal" and to express surprise.

In your example sentence, this could either mean the welcome is considered exceptionally warm (maybe a passionate kiss?) or exceptionally repellent (grim face and no "hi"). Could be both, the expression just says it is somehow exceptional and unexpected.

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  • 2
    I (northern German native speaker) never associated "es in sich haben" with something unexpected per se. Rather, to me it just suggests something is rich in content (whatever that content might be). A Google search for "haben es immer in sich" seems to confirm that no element of surprise is necessary. However, the distinction is a small one on practice. – Emil Jun 12 '16 at 13:24
  • @Emil - Actually, I don't see a point in saying "Etwas hat es in sich", when the "etwas" is expected to contain whatever special it contains and everyone would assume that contents beforehand – tofro Jun 12 '16 at 16:54
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The idiom concerns only the verb phrase "X hat es in sich" - X can be almost anything: a surprise, a task, a story, etc. The meaning corresponds loosely to "having it all" or "packing a punch".

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  • As a short and sweet summary of the meaning of the phrase, this should be the correct answer: packing a punch is indeed the English expression you would use in this context. – user21173 Jun 15 '16 at 4:42
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»Es in sich haben« is used if something is special, e. g. difficult or dangerous. There's also a use for [crafty/sly] persons.

Diese Mathe-Aufgabe hat es in sich. (This maths exercise is hard to solve.)

Die deutsche Sprache hat es in sich (ist tückisch, schwer zu lernen). (The German language has its vagaries.)

Diese Kletterwand hat es in sich. (This climbing wall is dangerous/hard to mount.)

Herberts Frau hat es in sich (ist durchtrieben). (Herberts wife is crafty.)

To emphasize the meaning you can add »ganz schön«:

Das Wetter hat es ganz schön in sich heute. (The weather is critical today.)

The expression is usually used in a negative sense, referring to something bad.

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  • 2
    I've never heard that expression for people. Seems odd to me. – Robert Jun 12 '16 at 23:53

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