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There's an expression in "Die Wahlverwandtschaften" of Goethe:

Herr Mittler ist in den Schlosshof gesprengt. Er hat uns alle zusammengeschrieen, wir sollen sie aufsuchen, wir sollen Sie fragen, ob es not tue.

'Ob es not tut', rief er uns nach, 'hoert ihr? Aber geschwind, geschwind!'

I tried to find this expression in Ge-En and Ge-Ge dictionaries, but neither of them (Collings, dict.cc, linguee.de, Duden) provided me with an explanation of the phrase.

I found an explanation in Google-books, it says that it means "is there need", and it somehow explains the meaning of the whole phrase (the Mittler is asking if there's a need in his service), but I need a better source than one book in G-books. Is there any? Could anybody explain me the grammar of this phrase and where it comes from?

  • At the end of your first line "sie" should be "Sie" (you). – fdb Oct 8 '18 at 12:35
  • @fdb you're free to edit it if you are sure that it stays like that in the text. – P. Vowk Oct 8 '18 at 19:06
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Gemeint ist hier, wie mir scheint, wohl nicht die heutige Bedeutung von es tut not als es ist erforderlich, sondern die veraltete (verwandte) Bedeutung es eilt. Siehe Grimm, Stichwort "noth", Bedeutung III 3 c:

c) es thut noth, es braucht eile, ist eilig, es thut mir noth, ich musz eilen (A, I, 7, d), Stalder 2, 243, oder ich habe drang zur ausleerung (A, III, 2), ebenda und Albrecht 177a.

Der Kontext (speziell die Bekräftigung "Aber geschwind, geschwind") deutet jedenfalls darauf hin.

(Bei Gelegenheit könnte man auch im Goethe-Wörterbuch nachschauen; der Band zum Buchstaben N ist leider noch nicht digital verfügbar.)

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Tut das Not (, dass ihr so einen Lärm macht) ?

Is it really neccessary?

This expression is still in use nowadays. Mostly to express annoyance about noise, stench or a mess you cannot ignore. The grammar is somewhat odd, because you would expect machen, not tun. Consider

Macht es dir Mühe?

Does it bother you?

Was macht dir Sorgen?

What causes you distress?

Goethe's sentence

» Ob es not tut «, rief er.

feels like a strange mix of colloquial and prose language to me. Maybe it was less odd in Weimar back then.

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In the meantime the spelling is

nottun (=vonnöten sein, benötigt werden; nötig sein [für jemanden])

So it's a separable verb and not listed under »Not«.

Source: Duden

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  • DWDS points out, that the separated writing (which I would have preferred due to the strange appearance suggesting a different pronounciation) is no longer correct. – guidot Oct 8 '18 at 6:54
  • @guidot: By »separable verb« I want to state that the spelling is »es tat not« instead of »es nottat«. – Pollitzer Oct 8 '18 at 7:54
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    Goethe, on the other hand, wrote: "Ob es Noth thue" and "Ob es Noth thut", treating "Noth" as a noun (hence with upper-case N), not as part of a separable verb. books.google.co.uk/… – fdb Oct 8 '18 at 12:46
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    @fdb: Today it would be »ob es nottue« and »ob es nottut«. – Pollitzer Oct 8 '18 at 13:02

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