This word can be broken up into “Durch” (through) and “Beißen” (bite), meaning to bite through something. When used literally, this verb describes the action of crushing, cutting, or penetrating something with your teeth.
Chowing down on a crusty (or perhaps stale) baguette? Then you must durchbeißen.
Trying to rip through pesky packaging that seems impenetrable? Perhaps putting your teeth to work and gnawing through is the right method.
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Durchbeißen is also often used figuratively, and means to struggle through something persistently. This word describes the tough reality of facing an uphill battle and having no choice but to stick it out. As Robert Frost wrote in his poem Servant of Servants, “The only way out is through.”
This German term, then, is uniquely fitting for a year as tumultuous and trying as 2020. Struggling through isolation and mandatory quarantine? Far away from loved ones, and have no choice but to hunker down, and stick out these unprecedented and difficult times alone? Durchbeißen describes this act of daily perseverance.
When I first moved to Germany, like most new arrivals, I had a tough time tackling all of the bureaucratic necessities of settling in a new country. I had a hard time opening a bank account, getting my visa paperwork together, and registering for health insurance.
A colleague gave me good advice and said, “Livy, du musst einfach eine große Tasse Kaffee trinken, und durchbeißen.” (Livy, you must simply drink a large cup of coffee and struggle through.)
This word follows in a uniquely German tradition of assigning very specific words to describe the toil and hardship of life, that simply do not have an apt English equivalent.
Words like Weltschmerz, Lebensmüde, and Mutterseelenallein are words that are similar in their unique ability to a less-than-cheery reality.
READ ALSO: German word of the day: Mutterseelallein
Im neuen Job war es für Fritz am Anfang nicht leicht, aber er hat sich durchgebißen.
At the beginning, Fritz’s job was not easy, but he stuck it out.
Das Brot war so abgestanden, dass er mit aller Kraft durchbeißen musste.
The bread was so stale that he had to bite through with all his strength.