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.
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 those though moments as immigrants. Struggling through isolation and learning a new language? Far away from loved ones, and have no choice but to hunker down, and keep compulsively checking for cheap flights? Durchbeißen describes this act of daily perseverance.
This word follows in a uniquely Germanic 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.
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.