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In colloquial German we sometimes see "Wischiwaschi" which was used since the 19th Century.

In "Der Misogyn" Lessing wrote in 1748:

Wumshäter (zur Laura.) Da, sieh einmal, wie verwirrt du ihn gemacht hast. Aber es ist ein Zeichen seines Verstandes; denn je verständiger ein Mann ist, desto weniger kann er sich aus euerm Gickelgackel und Wischiwaschi nehmen.

In English, there is a very similar term "wishy-washy" used occasionally for a weak or watery drink but may also be used figuratively when something lacks strength.

To my knowledge, the German "Wischiwaschi" is exclusively used in the wider context of idle talk, whereas "wishy-washy" or "wish-wash" is only rarely (if at all) used in this context in English.

Is or was there a German meaning similar to the English one? May this have been lost over time? Do these expressions share a common etymology at all?

  • 2
    Ich kenne wischi-waschi allgemein für konturlos - ob charakterschwach, undeutlich oder für aromaarme Speisen und Getränke, vor allem aber für Politiker. Was jetzt den Unterschied zum Englischen ausmachen soll habe ich wohl nicht verstanden - mein Englisch ist aber auch nicht so gut. – user unknown Apr 23 '12 at 17:40
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According to this page and this book, it's a composite of Wisch (colloquial for "Schriftstück" = document) and Wasch (another word for "schwätzen" = babble).

Wischiwaschi

Das Wort bedeutet soviel wie: "Geschwätz", "wertloses Machwerk". Es ist zusammengewachsen aus "Wisch" ("Schriftstück") und "waschen" ("schwätzen"). Zugleich wird in der Literatur verwiesen auf englisches "wish-wash" bzw. "wishy-washy".

In der Tat kann das lautmalende "Wischiwaschi" seine angelsächsische Herkunft nicht verleugnen; auch dort gibt es den Ausdruck "wishy-washy" mit der Bedeutung "labberig", "wässerig", "lasch". Es dient auch zur Beschreibung eines dünnen Getränks, einer charakterlich schwachen Person oder einer schwachen Leistung.

I don't know for sure if the German and English expressions have a common ancestor or which of both is the older form.

  • 1
    It's worth noting that the English etymology is completely different. According to the 1973 edition of the OED, "wishy washy" is a variation of a reduplication of "wash", meaning "kitchen swill or brewery refuse as food for swine". This would seem not to be related to the German etymology of "Wischiwaschi". – Dawood says reinstate Monica Apr 25 '12 at 8:11
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    I disagree with the meaning provided by @splattne. IMHO it's not so much idle talk in general ("Geschwätz"), but rather not being very specific or precise in what you're saying -- see also user unknown's comment to the original question. Duden sums it up quite nicely. – Raketenolli Jun 15 '17 at 8:57
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According to my moldy old dictionary I keep under the couch, "1. watery; insipid; thin 2. a) weak; feeble b) vacillating; indecisive"

I think it's much more of stretch to say that the German phrase is not related than to say it is, since they obviously mean much the same thing. According to my dictionary, which is physically printed, and cannot keep up with the zeitgeist of political correctness, the primary meaning includes the word insipid. That would certainly apply to insipid conversation. I think it's wishy-washy to not connect the German with the English phrase.

SYN. --insipid implies a lack of taste or flavor and is, hence, figuratively applied to anything that is lifeless, dull, etc. [insipid table talk]...

  • "I think it's wishy-washy to not connect the German with the English phrase." - that is a good example for a context in which I would rather not use wischiwaschi in German. – O. R. Mapper Jun 15 '17 at 10:49
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The meanings in the two languages are similar enough so that I suspect that the difference in meanings stem from cultural factors.

German is a "philosophical" language/culture, which is to say that it makes sense that "weak and watery" definition of "wischi-waschi" would apply mainly to (idle) TALK.

English (and American) culture is more action-oriented, which is why the English equivalent, "wishy-washy" might apply to ACTION.

Do the noun 'Reich' and the adjective 'reich' have a common origin?

  • I'm not the downvoter, but this is no answer but pure speculation. – Landei Apr 24 '12 at 9:06
  • @Landel: I'd call it "inference." – Tom Au Apr 24 '12 at 13:00

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