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The only previous post I could find related this was in German a bit over my head, so sorry if it's already covered there; it didn't seem like it though. I know the phrase means something like "Be that as it may," or "In any case", or just "Regardless." What I'm looking for is a word-for-word literal translation which might explain how this seemingly random collection of monosyllables can be interpreted to mean any of those things. The references I've tried just translate the phrase as a whole without any explanation, and it would help me to learn if there was one. My best attempt is "How to that also might be," which I can't make sense of. The equivalent English expressions are idiomatic as well and I'd probably be hard pressed to explain them myself, so maybe I'm asking for the impossible here. But often idioms do start to make sense if you figure out some missing words or context, this one seems just baffling though.

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The closest English expression would be

however that may be
wie dem auch sein mag

which corresponds closely to the German equivalent. The key to understanding lies in realising that auch modifies wie. The dictionaries call this the generalising use of auch (see for instance DWDS).

Was auch geschieht, dürfen die Kinder sich der Liebe ihrer Eltern sicher sein.
Whatever happens, the children can be certain of their parents' love.

Wenn Sie sich an Ihre Schulzeit erinnern möchten, wann auch immer das war.
If you want to remember your school days, whenever that was.

I find this characterisation somewhat lacking. The point is that these clauses are interpreted as if preceded by egal.

Egal, wohin man auch schaut, scheinen globale Kipppunkte erreicht zu sein.
No matter where you look, global tipping points seem to have been reached.

One inexplicable fact that remains is the use of dative dem instead of expected nominative das in the original sentence. One is liable to say:

Dem ist eben so.
That's just the way it is.

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    It's a pity that you don't have an explanation for the dative. That is the really interesting thing here. – infinitezero Jul 3 at 0:57
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    The why dative question was the subject of the other thread I mentioned that was hard for me to follow. In English there's the phrase "as to", and you might think of "as to that" as "wie dem" in German. It's probably not logical or grammatical but it's good enough to help remember the expression. The meaning of 'auch' here is a big help, and is as much as could expect. So the translation I'm going with (filling in several ellipses) is "As to that, whichever it may be, that's what it will be." It reminds me of the English "It is what it is," presumably just as cryptic to non-native speakers. – RDBury Jul 3 at 4:30
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    The idiomatic equvalent in English is not "however that may be" but "be that as it may..." – Kilian Foth Jul 3 at 6:40
  • @KilianFoth I wrote closest. OP suggested be that as it may themselves. – David Vogt Jul 3 at 7:13
  • By the way, the dative occurs also in the related idioms "Dem ist/war nicht so" or "Wenn dem so ist, dann..." – Uwe Jul 3 at 16:37
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The shortest translation in english is probably "anyway" or also "whatever". Is something like a filler word or you also use it to end a conversation topic where the exit is indifferent (gleichgültig), for example "Anyway, let's talk about something else now" (Wie dem auch sei, lass uns jetzt über was anderes reden).

A word to word translate would be something like this:

  • let‘s leave it
  • no matter how it is
  • be that as it may
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  • It's a kind of wordy phrase that actually doesn't mean that much. But I suppose without them conversation would eventually drift into an awkward silence. I was more interested, though, in how the individual pieces fit together to get the rather cryptic whole. – RDBury Jul 3 at 3:57
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how them may be

this is them in the substandard reading them thangs, they people, which makes for an apt illustration that demonstrative pronouns and all that have quite a long winded, diverse and complicated history.

Compare therefore *wam? wiu!.

After all, the dative reading, which would be the only remaining legal interpretation of dem does not seem to be fit here.


Note by the way that however neatly parallels wie aber, "wie dem aber auch sei", "wie aber auch immer", in terms of phonetics, although, an etymologic link cannot be proved so far, inasmuch as ever at least is uncertain of origin.

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  • The why dative question seems to be covered in another thread, and that wasn't the thing that was confusing to me, not that I knew the reason but it wasn't the thing that was keeping me from parsing the phrase. I'm pretty sure @David Vogt hit it with the auch meaning -ever thing. I'd never seen that before and now that I know it's easy to construct other examples: "whomever you mean" wen Sie auch meinen, "whatever it takes" was es auch kostet, "wherever you go" wohin Sie auch gehen. – RDBury Jul 4 at 11:58

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