What’s with…? / Was ist mit…?

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

What’s with…?
Was ist mit…?

This phrase is complicated to deal with because it has two meanings in both American English (AmE) and German, as illustrated in the table below. Both of the AmE examples are taken from the Dictionary of American Slang,1 which dates what’s with…? to the ‘late 1930s+’ and attributes it to the Yiddish phrase vos iz mit…? The German examples in the table are my own, as are their English translations.


As you can see, the type 1 usage (red) has the same meaning in both AmE and German, while type 2 (blue or green) has different meanings in AmE and German. German type 2 is probably more commonly used than German type 1, but it has no equivalent in AmE.
As I haven’t lived in the UK for many years now, I don’t know to what extent – if any – what’s with…? might be on the rise in British English. When I was growing up, it was still uncommon enough to be perceived as an Americanism. However, it clearly does occur in BrE, as a search for what’s with in the British National Corpus returned 28 results. The earliest of these was from 1978, although most were from the 1990s.

1 Originally found via Dictionary.com, but link no longer accessible.

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