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In a game, the characters says

"wir sind so was von tot"

I switched language from German to English, and found out that the translation is

"we are so dead"

I am confused by the phrase "so was von". Especially the preposition "von". I searched on google but found no clear definition. Is that like an idiom or fixed phrase? Thanks!

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In fact this is an idiomatic phrase; it may communicate an elative, intensifying meaning, but usually, it simply expresses the speaker's firm opinion of a certain circumstance. It's commonly used, also in written language.

It may also be used to create a elative/superlative meaning for characteristics you can't form a comparative for. This is true in your example - you can't be "more dead than dead". But the example may bear a figurative, metaphorical meaning, as

"The situation is completely hopeless."

Other examples:

  • „So etwas von Frau“ (movie from 1959, english title: "That Kind of Woman")
  • Der ist so (et)was von blöd“ → "He's extraordinarily stupid"
  • „Wir haben gewiß vier Spann Pferde müde gefahren. So etwas von Aktivität ist mir noch nie vorgekommen.“ (Th. Fontane, Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg).
  • „Nachdem er eine Weile gegangen war, dachte er, der Wald ist prima. So etwas von einem Wald hatte er noch nicht gesehen.“ (A. Andersch, Sansibar oder der letzte Grund).

The film title and the Fontane and Andersch quotes show another interesting use case: to use "so etwas von" together with a noun instead of an adjective - this is possible, but IMHO very rare in everyday language.

In the Duden, you'll find some more examples for "so etwas von" among the idiomiatic examples for "etwas". In written language, one would usually use "so etwas von" - your example has the elliptic, colloquial version, dropping the "et-".

Of course, you'll have to take care if "so etwas von" isn't used as phrase, but with the "plain" meaning esp. regarding the preposition "von". For example:

  • „Doch läßt sich freilich so etwas von einem Arzte in einem Landstädtchen nicht verlangen.“ (from a letter of J.W. von Goethe)
  • „Dass so etwas von Beamten eines Ministeriums unterstützt wird, zeugt von einem gelinde gesagt seltsamen Demokratieverständnis.“ (from the Newspaper "Die Zeit", 2015)
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Here's another (double) example. In a humorous column in 'Die Zeit' on 11th November, 2004, Harald Martenstein wrote:

'Berlin geht so was von den Bach runter. Berlin ist so was von fertig'.

It seems to me that a good idiomatic translation of the phrase here would be 'as good as'. (This also works for the example 'so was von tot'.)

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  • 4
    I highly disagree. 'as good as' means "so gut wie". "Wenn die uns erwischen sind wir so gut wie tot" still leaves some hope that you might escape or survive the situation. However, "Wenn die uns erwischen sind wir sowas von tot" marks your imminent death sentence. The correct translation is indeed, as given by OP, "we are so dead". – infinitezero Feb 18 at 1:25

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