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Came across this phrase in an old edition of the Bild:

Altstadt – Streiten, nachfragen, Finger in die Wunde legen: Dafür hat Frankfurt 93 Stadtverordnete. Doch während einige Sabbelwasser trinken, schweigen andere wie ein Grab.

I can guess that Sabbelwasser means drool / saliva etc, but what is the author trying to say? I've tried all the standard dictionaries inluding Duden - this word doesn't appear anywhere.

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    The phrase means that for some unspecified reason, these people talk a lot. The word "Sabbelwasser" can sometimes also refer to alcoholic drinks (because these cause such behavior).
    – Roland
    Oct 5 '21 at 15:16
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    Wait until they talk a Kotelett onto your ear.
    – Alex
    Oct 5 '21 at 15:53
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I think BILD didn't choose the correct word. (Oops, incredible: BILD wrong?)

BILD writes about the Frankfurt city parliament. Therefore the correct word should be Babbelwasser. The phrase "Hast Du Babbelwasser gesoffe?" is typical Hessian (and especially "frankfurterisch"). A person who has "Babbelwasser gesoffe (= getrunken)" does not stop talking.

I guess the author of the article does not come from Frankfurt (or Hesse), otherwise he would not have used "Sabbelwasser" which is a foreign word for local readers.

Update:

An objection raised in a comment is why BILD which has a nationwide audience should use local (Frankfurt) dialect. The reason is that BILD has 20 regional editions ("Regionalausgaben") presenting news about regional topics. To read such articles you must intentionally navigate on the homepage to the corresponding region. The link given in the question has the URL

https://www.bild.de/regional/frankfurt/frankfurt-regional-politik-und-wirtschaft/politiker-zeugnis-2014-wer-klotzt-richtig-ran-im-roemer-39163180.bild.html

which shows that the article is addressed specially to local readers. Its headline is "BILD sagt, wer im Römer richtig ranklotzt". Römer is the name of the Frankfurt city hall and I guess already that is not known supra-regional. So, why should people in Berlin or Munich be interested in local Frankfurt politics? And why should the typical local expression "Babbelwasser" be replaced by "Sabbelwasser" which probably nobody knows in Frankfurt?

Moreover, in my opinion the word "Sabbelwasser" may be a bit ambiguous. It is certainly derived from the verb sabbeln which can also be used as a synonym for sabbern. The verb babbeln does not have the ambiguity.

The word "Babbelwasser" even has an occurrence in serious literature. In the novel "Das siebte Kreuz" by Anna Seghers (a Mainz native) we can read on p. 59

»Wirklich, du bist so weich in der Ehe geworden, Auguste«, sagte Ernst, »du warst mir früher zu kratzbürstig.«
»Du hast schon in aller Früh Babbelwasser getrunken«, sagte Auguste.

Here it is used in the sense of talking nonsense.

enter image description here

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    Why should a paper with a nationwide audience switch to a certain local dialect when reporting about a local incident?
    – Arsak
    Oct 6 '21 at 14:26
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    @Arsak A fair objection. But see my update. And by the way, also "Sabbelwasser" is not standard German but some sort of dialect.
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 6 '21 at 22:20
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    As a German native speaker from nowhere near Frankfurt/ Hessen I don't think I have encountered either Babbelwasser or Sabbelwasser before. I could sort of guess the meaning from context either way but neither word should be assumed to be understandable for a generic German audience.
    – quarague
    Oct 7 '21 at 7:41
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    @quarague You are certainly right that both words are unknown to an all-German audience. All I can say is that I am a native "Frankfurter" and that Babbelwasser is a commonly known expression in Frankfurt and the region close to it. In contrast I have never heard Sabbelwasser before, but the similarity of both words is so obvious that I immediately understood its meaning (and of course one can also derive it from the context in the article). But yes, my personal experience does not prove anything.
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 7 '21 at 8:48
  • Also see p.4. of this. Worfelden is located between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 7 '21 at 9:12
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I understand "Sabbelwasser trinken" as a phrase that is used figuratively or in a tounge-in-cheek way. The meaning is that someone might have drunk some kind of "water" which causes him/her to talk a lot, maybe with little substance. (sabbeln) The term is mostly used in the past tense, e.g. "X hat (wohl) Sabbelwasser getrunken."

A literal translation of "Sabbelwasser" might be "babble water".
(As noted by Henning Kockerbeck in a comment.)

Depending on the context, "Sabbelwasser" may actually refer to alcohol, but it can also be understood as some imaginary "magic" liquid.

A synonymous term is "Quasselwasser".

A similar term (with a different meaning) is "Zielwasser". See the 3rd source below.

See

  1. https://www.mundmische.de/bedeutung/24414-Sabbelwasser_getrunken
  2. https://www.sprachnudel.de/woerterbuch/sabbelwasser
  3. https://www.redensarten-index.de/suche.php?suchbegriff=~~Sabbelwasser+getrunken+haben&bool=relevanz&sp0=rart_ou
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    That's basically correct. "X hat wohl Sabbelwasser getrunken" is a very tounge-in-cheek way of saying that person X does talk a lot - with the subtext that they're talking a lot, but saying not that much. The idea is to (jokingly) assume that person X probably drank a kind of water that made them talk that much, the (made up) "Sabbelwasser". A literal translation could be "babble water". Oct 5 '21 at 15:19
  • The slightly convoluted explanation with alcohol isn't even necessary. "Some kind of water" can just be any kind of water-like liquid that has the effect described in the very same word (making the one who drank it babble or talk a lot). I'd say the concept of substances that have very specific effects is deeply ingrained, just think of "love potions", "sleeping draughts", or "truth serums". Oct 5 '21 at 16:00
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    Another example in that direction would be "Zielwasser", i.e. a (figurative) liquid that improves someone's aim.
    – QBrute
    Oct 6 '21 at 14:47
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I suppose it refers to "sabbeln" in the sense of "talking fast and a lot (of nonsense)".

This would also fit in contrast to the following "schweigen wie ein Grab".

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  • I believe the word originates from Low German.
    – Roland
    Oct 5 '21 at 15:17
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    This answers one component of the question (the part "sabbeln", that is), but it still lacks an explanation concerning the rest of the phrase. Oct 5 '21 at 15:55
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While Sabbelwasser and Babbelwasser appear to be regional terms[1][2], the Duden (a dictionary of the Standard High German language) explains the term Brabbelwasser as

colloquially joking: to be talkative, to talk incessantly

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    Nice catch from Duden. I personally have never heard "Brabbelwasser" and it seems to me that it has the "same degree" of being Standard High German than the other words. Formally all three are correct compounds of the verbs babbeln / sabbeln / brabbeln which all occur in the Duden and the noun Wasser. Moreover, if you make a Google search for "Brabbelwasser" you get the response Ungefähr 1.160 Ergebnisse plus the notice Meintest du: Babbelwasser. This indicates that it is used less frequently than Babbelwasser. Oct 9 '21 at 9:54

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