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I am translating a story about Till Eulenspiegel from German to English. The entire text can be found here, but I am interested in the following paragraph (from the first story about how he was baptized three times):

Und als sie über einen schmalen Brückensteg wegmussten, der keine Geländer hatte, bekam die Hebamme einen Schwindelanfall und purzelte, hast du nicht gesehen, von dem Steg in den Bach hinunter.

So I understand what is going on here - when they (a group of people) had to cross a narrow bridge without any railing, the midwife became dizzy and tumbled and fell into the stream. However, I don't understand what is the meaning of the phrase "hast du nicht gesehen" in this context and position in the sentence. I'm suspecting an idiomatic meaning as it is separated by commas (i.e., separated from the whole sentence, perhaps in meaning) and I cannot connect it to the rest of the sentence when translating it literally.

  • Beside it's idiomatic meaning described in the answers, it's a very strange use of it and I guess most of the other native german-speakers here will agree. Until yet, I only knew it as own question but never as side sentence. My german class teacher from school had given me a F for that. Never use it in modern day language, neither in discussion nor written documents. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Sep 2 at 12:33
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    @RobertS-ReinstateMonica: I'm not sure I understand your comment. The way "hast du nicht gesehen" is used in the cited example is not strange, but basically the only way to use it, if the expression is meant to be an occurrence of the idiomatic expression described in the answers. (Of course, that idiomatic expression is not necessarily widely known or at least regionally restricted, so the phrase may seem strange to a reader who doesn't know the expression.) With that said, I think the idiomatic expression is not a question at all but a shortened statement, "[Das] hast du nicht gesehen." – O. R. Mapper Sep 2 at 19:28
  • I was indeed going to ask if anyone could help me go even deeper and try to analyze this interjection/clause grammatically, because the literal sense of the construction is not clear to me... So @O.R.Mapper suggests a "Das" is to be understood there, but in what way? Is it a direct object of gesehen, or a relative pronoun? And is that why the original expression has the (auxiliary) verb BEFORE the subject? – Don_S Sep 2 at 20:23
  • @O.R.Mapper No, as I already said to an answer made which was deleted, there is no "Das" in the sentence and that is its intention. "Hast du nicht gesehen" is usually a question and can be directly translated to "Didn't you seen". The focus on the sentence lies on the person who is you and not the subject which was not seen by you. This is an important difference. It signalize that emphasis is on that it was passed quickly, not what that was. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Sep 2 at 22:27
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    @RobertS-ReinstateMonica: why is it required that "hast Du nicht gesehen" in a side sentence is a question without question mark? For me it is a sentence just stating that I didn't see it - additionally the idiomatic aspect. So nothing strange here for me. A bit more common in spoken language would be for me: "so schnell konntest Du nicht gucken" – Shegit Brahm Sep 3 at 5:49
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The idiomatic meaning is too fast to take notice, or, as @Don_S commented, in the blink of an eye.

A quite early occurrence illustrating this meaning is here (exclamation mark indicating an interjection):

Es sprang aber, hast du nicht gesehen! und fluͤchtete sich in ein Schilderhaus ohne daß es der Soldat gewahr wurde.

Grimms Fairy Tales, 1812, Zwei Brüder.

Note, that the phrase can be used literally too:

Hast du nicht gesehen, dass der Hund unter das Sofa gekrochen ist?

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    So, translating it to "in the blink of an eye", for example, may be appropriate, right? – Don_S Sep 1 at 20:41
  • Is this related to the difference between "hast" (to have) vs. "hast" (haste, hurry)? – jpa Sep 2 at 10:04
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    @jpa No, there is no connection. It's the auxiliary verb haben in all instances. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 2 at 10:37
  • The Form (describing speedy occurrence) is used almost exclusively in storytelling or fairy tales, so it would be appropriate to use a romantic transalation, not sure what a good fit it. It is also used to describe something of surprising behavior ("so was gutes hast du nicht gesehen") or something literally not seen ("das Auto hast du nicht gesehen") – eckes Sep 3 at 5:30
  • @eckes "so was gutes hast du noch nicht gesehen" is way more common in this context. – mtwde Sep 3 at 8:07
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Apart from the already presented meaning(s), the expression in question is (also) used to denote amazement, as in you've seen nothing like it !

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  • That looks like a great resource I was not aware of. Thank you! – Don_S Sep 2 at 20:14
  • It's also used in enumerations: A,B, hast du nicht gesehen. (A, B, you name it.) – Olafant Sep 3 at 5:46
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"hast du/haste nicht gesehen" means "quickly".

In this context, it refers to the speed of something that is described as happen ing faster than what can be perceived by the human eye (or, at least, adequately processed by the brain).

My understanding is that it is a shortened form of a statement:

[Das] hast du nicht gesehen[, so schnell ging das!]

This matches what is stated on Redensarten-Index (pointed out in Lucian's answer) for another meaning of the expression - one of amazement - that generally follows the same pattern:

Die Redensart kann heute als eine Verkürzung des Satzes "Das hast du noch nicht gesehen!" gedacht werden,

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Although the specific case of the OP is already answered, just for the sake of complettion I want to add:

Hast du nicht gesehn in german can also be used as "etc." or to denote big quantities of X.
Like germ. "Der Eismann hat so viele Sorten. Vanille, Schokolade, Erdbeere und hast du nicht gesehn"
eng. "The Iceman has so many flavours. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and what not"

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