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With no prior knowledge of this, I would say

Wer ist das?

MY question is related to what I read here

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasistas#Etimologia

It's a page from the Italian version of Wikipedia and it talks about the "vasistas", a name which is apparently used in Romance languages to identify the small opening in a door made to see who's knocking (by the way, I've never heard this noun).

The section on its etymology says that the term originates from German: when German soldiers heard some knocking at the door, they said "Was ist das?" and then French soldiers (who were knocking) identified the "vasistas" as the opening (I know, it sounds silly).

So I ask: is "was ist das?" a proper way to ask who is it at the door?

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    Oh, knock-knock jokes on GLU! :D witze.woxikon.de/klopf-klopf-witze Jul 18, 2013 at 19:46
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    The story I've heard about le vasistas is different: The French, who are accustomed to large windows that let as much light into the interior as is possible (hence the term "French windows" in the English language), were puzzled at the smallness of the windows in German houses, especially the tiny tilt-hinge window in the bathroom. Being polite, they asked the natives in the local language, "Was ist das?" The term stuck and when they returned to France, they experimented with tiny windows themselves. Instead of inventing a new French word for these portholes, they re-used ... vasistas. Jul 18, 2013 at 20:03
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    German Wikipedia gives the explanation I am familiar with: "Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts sahen deutsche Besucher in Frankreich das erste Mal Kämpferfenster und stellten dem Hausherrn diese Frage." More etymology here. Jul 18, 2013 at 20:16
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    Dear Martina, if you click on the woxikon link I gave, you will find that the typical query is Wer da? A more polite way of asking would be Ja bitte? Jul 18, 2013 at 20:21
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    Wer da? is the short military (command) form of Wer ist da?. See also Halt! Wer da?...
    – äüö
    Jul 19, 2013 at 6:56

1 Answer 1

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The usual phrase is Wer ist da? (Who's there?). Wer ist es? is also possible, and Wer da?, though the latter sounds rather unfriendly. I can't imagine asking Was ...?, however.

A typical answer would be: Ich bin's! Really. :-) More useful is, of course, just giving the name. Or both: Ich bin's, (die) Johanna!

As Eugene mentions, Ja bitte? is another possibility. However, it may already be understood as an invitation to enter. Herein! is the unambiguous phrase for that.

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    What does the 's in inch bin's stand for?
    – indoxica
    Jul 19, 2013 at 7:33
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    bin's = bin es.
    – Dario
    Jul 19, 2013 at 10:19

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