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Please excuse this naive question from someone almost totally ignorant of the language.

In an exchange having a German context, I wanted to ask the well-known (in the US) and snarky question "Where's the beef?". What came out of the Universal Translator (-cough-) was "Wo ist das Rind?"

Correct, I'm sure, but it misses the flavor of "Where's" as opposed to "Where is". So I wrote it as "Wo'st das Rind?", and the point was made.

Is this remotely acceptable in colloquial German?

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    In spoken German, "Wo's das Rind?" could be acceptable. As a side note, German doesn't have the distinction between "animal" and "meat of the animal" ("cow" vs. "beef", "pig" vs. "pork"). Therefore, "das Rind" would probably be understood to refer to the animal on the meadow. Something like "Wo's das Rindfleisch?" or just "Wo's das Fleisch?" might work better. Oct 5 at 22:59
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    You shouldn't ask this unless you literally want to know where the cow is.
    – RalfFriedl
    Oct 6 at 9:16
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    @phresnel I was referring to the distinction between the living animal and the animal on your plate. In English there are separate words for that, like "cow" vs. "beef", "pig" vs. "pork", "chicken" vs. "poultry". In German, there's no word that directly corresponds to for example "beef", therefore, we use the compositum "Rindfleisch" ("cattle meat"). As you note, when it's clear from the context that we're talking about the meat and not the live animal, you can just say "Rind". But that context isn't there in "Wo's das Rind?", so we need to specify. Oct 6 at 9:26
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    As an idiom, "where is the beef" is actually closer to "Was hast du denn für ein Problem", so I am not sure the culinary discussion is pertinent (and the German idiom offers ample opportunity for contractions). Unless of course we are not talking about idioms, but about cattle, but somehow that seems unlikely.
    – user2508
    Oct 6 at 11:16
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    @EikePierstorff Didn't the idiom originate in a commercial slogan for a burger joint? Since then, it has mostly been used to question the substance of something, like "Where's the beef in this hamburger?", "Where's the real value in this product?". In 2020, when there was a shortage of beef in some places, the burger joint revived the ad. I'm not sure whether the idiom "to have beef with somebody" is related. Oct 6 at 11:41
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“Wo’st” isn’t a typical German contraction.

You could perhaps get away with something like

  • wo’s (“wo” + the colloquial “is’” instead of “ist” or
  • wo’sn (“wo” + “is(t) denn”)

That said, contractions are less standard in German than in English, where a whole range of auxiliary verbs shrivels down to “‘s” and “‘d” both in written and spoken language. In German, you are (as a rule of thumb) better off with the full version in written language, apart from e.g. a theater script trying to mimic spoken colloquialism.

And finally, while Americans are familiar with the phrase “where’s the beef”, there’s no direct translation that also captures the meaning. For that, you’d have to find an alternative - but that’s probably best asked in another question.

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    Are there no German writers that have written "as you pronounce" to emphasize different dialects such as how Mark Twain did? Is this just an English thing? "get em!" "howdy pardner" "Blowin' in the Wind"
    – Nacht
    Oct 7 at 1:45
  • The answer to this question would be anecdotal at best and would not help OP.
    – marianoju
    Oct 7 at 8:02
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    @Nacht The distinction between written and spoken English is much smaller than the difference between written German, spoken German, and the many hundreds of German dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible with one another and with standard German. Some authors have written in dialect, but in purely standard German, there hasn't been a revolutionary cultural figure on the order of Samuel Clemens who has bridged the gulf between spoken and written German. Perhaps Erich Kästner isn't so formal as Günter Grass, but his work is still much more elevated than most natural speech.
    – S. G.
    Oct 7 at 15:55
  • @S.G. Interesting, thank you!
    – Nacht
    Oct 7 at 22:16
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    Two nitpicking remarks to this good answer: (1) There is quite a lot of contractions that most people are not aware of like "zur" for "zu der" or "beim" for "bei dem". (2) Contractions are commonly used in poems or song lyrics to indicate that syllables get dropped like "sein'm" for "seinem" is actually spoken "seim".
    – Philippos
    Oct 8 at 10:30
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Such contractions are not usual in this form, and they certainly are not something one ever writes - unless one wants to mimic a certain dialect or slur.

But then such sentence would probably read more like (in my regional flavour), shortening "wo ist denn" to "wo is'n":

Wo is'n das Fleisch?

Wo is'n das Rindfleisch?

Wo is'n die Kuh?

However as suggested in the comments, if you mean the idiom "Where's the beef?" which is somewhat synonymous to "What's the point?" / "Is that really worthwhile?", then I'd probably go for something like

Was soll'n das?

Wat soll dat denn? (with more slang pronounciation)

If the intend is more like "what's in for us?": Was haben wir davon?

Und was ha'm wir davon?

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  • The idiom is not really "What's the point" but more like "Where is the substance behind your claim?" Anybody can talk a good game, but talk needs to be backed up with action or facts. I don't know if there is a good German idiom for that, or if any of your alternatives express that clearly. Oct 6 at 15:21
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    @RossPresser "Butter bei die Fische" has not the same meaning, but goes in a similar direction. If you're asked to "add butter to your fish dish", you're asked to get to the point, to get down to brass tacks. And yes, the grammar would look differently today Oct 6 at 15:47
  • Another English idiom is "show me the money". Or you could simply say "Prove it." I'm belaboring the point here, but I want to be clear the "Where's the beef" is not just "You're wasting my time, get to the point" but also "I don't believe you, can you prove what you say?" Oct 6 at 17:39
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No, "Wo'st" is not a contraction that would be used in German.

In general, contractions are not commonly used in written text, formal or informal.

That said, in written text that imitates a spoken conversation like chat or instant messaging contractions like "Wo issn das?" or "Biste fertig?" are sometimes used. "Gibt es ...?" is almost universally written as "Gibts ...?".

Please note that you need to write the apostrophe only if it would otherwise be ambiguous.

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"Proper" written contractions cannot elide much more than "e" with an "'". Spoken language has a number of comparatively informal contractions that don't quite reach the level of French (which writes more syllables than spoken in even the most formal language use).

At any rate "Wo's das Rind" (slightly more acceptable than "Wo'st" but still wrong) would be "Where's the cow?". Which is cute but probably not what you meant.

If the meaning was supposed to be "I want to see something more substantial" (typically concrete commitment), the German idiom would be "Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische!". Note that this is decidedly not correct German but a phrase borrowed from Plattdeutsch (where pronunciation and typical phonetic spelling would be quite different but did not venture into mainstream German along with the phrase).

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  • Welcome to German.SE. I'm sorry, yet I fail to understand your point. Do you think there is an option to write down your arguments step by step in a way someone like me might follow? ANd leave out and sidenotes that are beyond the scope of the question? Thanks. Oct 7 at 19:01
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In German, there are contractions, but they follow different rules.

In your example, you would not drop one of the consecutive vowels, but rather one of the consecutive consonants. So "Wo ist das Rind(fleisch)?" would become "Wo is' das Rind(fleisch)?".

It would be acceptable in speaking, though quite uncommon in writing, to contract even more to "Wo's' das Rind?".

I'd like to note that "Wo is'n das Rind?", as proposed in the other answers, is not actually wrong, but it's a contraction of "Wo ist denn das Rind?" which was not used in the question like this and isn't an exact translation of "Where's the beef?" either.

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"Wie geht's" is a very common example of the very few traditional High German contractions. You will find more contractions in the regional dialects, but they are specific and rarely written out, unless the dialect itself is being emphasized. The Hessian "Ei-guda-wie" is one such example, if it can be considered a proper contraction.
Writing out a contraction (that's not "wie geht's") would almost come across as crude (depending on the region/person) -- unless, again, you're emphasizing the crudeness/slang itself, such as quoting a drunk from the subway or obnoxious teens.

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  • Welcome to German.SE. Could you please write out your mentioned contractions? Because I have no clue about them.Sure, a link might also help. Just it is common sense here to include the core information/quote of a link. And I personally think that your claim "find more contractions in the regional dialects" would benefit from more (explained) examples. Cheers. Oct 7 at 6:13
  • This does not answer the question.
    – Carsten S
    Oct 7 at 10:41

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