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I’m trying to understand „ab die Post“ — I know that it means something like “let’s get going“, but the question is why?

This page https://de.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/ab_die_Post

suggest that it originates from the highly efficient Thurn & Taxis postal system in 1490-1866, which makes me think the meaning is something like: “let’s move like something FROM the postal system!” Is that the sense?

And why “ab”? Understanding little words like “ab” is a big problem for me. If anyone has advice other than just “keep learning vocabulary” I’d be glad to hear it.

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    For the "ab": Think of English expression "off they go!", marking the starting moment. "off" is one possible meaning of "ab". – Volker Landgraf Sep 11 at 11:19
  • Und ab die Post. is not exactly Let's get going. but more like Shift it! (your butt). – Janka Sep 11 at 11:42
  • I appreciate all the help with "ab", but no one has yet directly answered the part of my question about "die Post" (i.e., “'let’s move like something FROM the postal system!' Is that the sense?") Do German-speakers say this without even considering a connection to the postal system? I know people say idioms in English without understanding the connection (e.g., "in a pickle", "bone dry", "lower the boom", etc...) – Tony M Sep 12 at 10:05
  • Most simply: einen Brief abschicken. Also: Die Post geht ab is a term for "the mail is being sent". Therefore Ab die Post – Christian Geiselmann Sep 12 at 10:40
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Volker is right in his comment with his translation: "off they go" means pretty much the same.
Now to the question why ab is used:
I think the ab is from abgehen in the meaning of sich von etwas lösen/entfernen, but in the idiom the gehen part is ommited. The word abgehen however is nowadays used with several different meanings:

  • "Hier geht es ab" means that theres a lot happening
  • "Der Sticker geht ab" means the sticker is falling off
  • "Ab geht's!" has pretty much the same meaning as "Ab (geht) die Post"
  • If someone said “Ab geht die Post” would that sound synonymous to “Ab die Post“ to a German speaker? – Tony M Sep 11 at 12:19
  • Mostly, yes. But (at least where I live) "Ab geht die Post" isn't used very often, and I guess that it's pretty close to something like "Hier geht die Post ab", which is pretty much synonymous to "Hier geht's ab". Therefor people may assume something different than the speaker intended. But that's just a guess. – miep Sep 11 at 12:25
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    Cp pop goes the weasel for the syntax at least. cp hop-hop! "hurry up", auf-auf "get up, let's go, get to it" – vectory Sep 11 at 15:22
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This comes from the time where mail was carried by horses and/or carriage. "Jetzt geht die Post ab" means that the rider or coach responsible for mail transport is departing. Mail delivery was a strenuous business for both rider and horses, and motor carriages have substituted for them basically starting in the 20th century, a much too short period to change an idiomatic expression such as that. And even when motor carriages did supplant mail transport by horse, it would have been done at a time when motor carriages were able to even surpass the already unusually high pace that the comparatively short-lived postal horses were traveling at.

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Compare "da geht die Post ab" (there's a lot going on, usually said of events, not implying chaos). The denotional sense is the place where the post is sent off.

If you've worked in a dispatch center (note dis- ~ off) you'll note that it is quite hectic and initially chaotic. Terminsgeschäft is a matter of timing, therefore everyone is in a hurry. (it is also quite often the middle of the night, but I'm not sure whether that had anything to do with it). The lot is initially unsorted and needs to be sorted out. Hence a connotation of chaos can be gleamed, though a postal master will naturally master it. However, it's no secret that messages have gone lost occasionally.

Similar expressions are "ab geht die wilde Lutzie", "ab geht die wilde Fahrt" which leave no doubt that haste and turbulence is implied. The semantic field includes "da stept der Bär", and the like, which implies an association to carnival (and carroussels, as far as "Fahrt" is concerned). By the way, in the industrial age, post is sorted on a "carrousel", a more or less complicated network of conveyer belts, shoots and ladders, and other machinery like the luggage disposal at an airport.


So the semantic associations of the post should be clear. To explain "Ab die Post", compare a sole "Ab!", which is also heard quite frequently

Ab! -- Away!, Go!

Incidentally geh, or to go are akin to a preposition, that is Gr ago "towards".

die Post is an appelative. Today it softens the expression, that would otherwise appear rather brisk. Historically, the appelative was perhaps simply denotional, but I have no quotes to assertain that believe. Such appelative is archaic, but still understood: Einen schönen guten Abend, die Damen!.

I'm not sure whether that should be deemed a case of accusative (die Damen, den Herren), which would make some limited sense, or rather nominative (Hallo, der feine Herr). The syntax can be seen as well in "[schneid'] ab den Mist", "Weg damit", etc. "Post" means equally the mail, the personal and the office, so the phrase is underspecified.

We can also compare Hepp! Hop hop, ab in's Körbchen! Wohl an! Auf auf, raus aus den Federn, Ihr Schlafmützen! Raus! Raus mit dir [du] Halunke! Stop, Hammertime! Stehengeblieben! Kompanie, halt! An die Waffen! Alarm, alarm, die Russen kommen! Vorsicht, Taschendiebe! Alle mal aufgepasst! Immer rein in die gute Stube! Geh mit Gott, aber geh, du Nervensäge! Aus die Maus!


Perhaps compare "to go postal" (to go past reasonable, beyond repair).

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    While this might contain interesting comparisons, I feel it misses the question completely. – infinitezero Sep 11 at 15:30
  • I'm rather worried that I missed a note on appelatives in the Nachfeld, because I don't remember any, dear @infinitezero – vectory Sep 11 at 16:02
  • But it's "Ab die Post", not "Ab, die Post" as in all your other examples. – infinitezero Sep 11 at 20:41
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    Did you make this up? Or are there any proves of your interpretation? I'm quite sure, that "ab die Post" has a dedicated meaning. And I totally disagree that "ab die Post" and "da geht die Post ab" have even a similar meaning... one means: Lets go, the other: there is something "interesting" or "wild" going on... – Torsten Link Sep 12 at 7:52
  • @TorstenLink apparently you lack reading comprehension. If you manage to misrepresent my writing then I find it likely that you also read too much into "ab die Post". I carefully avoided to submit a opinion towards a similar meaning. It takes very little get "let's go wild" from "let's go", yet "wild" is a wild and willified reinterpretation. unidentical is not opposite to "completely different", which isn't a criticism, but a vain provocation for quotes, which I would have already given, if my answer rested on it. You are free to search it yourself, if you need it, and write your own answer – vectory Sep 12 at 11:06

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