Try learning to spell rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften
By Karina Martinez-Carter
What was once the longest word in the German language, a tongue consisting of many ridiculously lengthy words, is no more.
The term rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz — that’s 63 letters long for those of you keeping track at home — means “the law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling.” A regional parliament recently repealed the legislative measure, which was established in 1999, rendering the word obsolete. Because the mouthful of a word is legal jargon, it remained outside the Duden German dictionary during its existence and it is unlikely the average German ever encountered it. (For those curious how in the world you might pronounce the word, check out this recording.)
Compound words exist in many languages, but German’s grammar construction in particular lends itself to easily tacking on parts to make single words stretch across a page. As a result, the language is rife with lanky terms. As Mark Twain put it, “Some German words are so long that they have perspective.”
What follows are 10 of our favorite seemingly-never-ending German words, which earn a spot on our list thanks to characteristics like technicality, definition, adaptation, or sheer perseverance in length. And to think we English language speakers consider it a feat to verbalize “antidisestablishmentarianism” without stumbling.
As David Sedaris noted in his New Yorker article about learning German, this word is most astutely described as another option for “partner” or “lover,” but with a more transient twist: “the person I am with today.” A more elegant, proper version of the term is lebensabschnittgefährter.
Twain’s frustrations with learning German are well documented in his book A Tramp Abroad. This term he notes as meaning “independencedeclarations” (sic), which is perhaps a parchment-saving way our own Declaration of Independence could have been titled.
Here’s one that even an English speaker might be able to break down, beginning with “freund,” which means “friend.” Twain also took umbrage at this “clumsy” term despite its sunny meaning: “demonstrations of friendship.”
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes this cumbersome word as the longest German word in everyday use. It means “insurance companies providing legal protection.”
Those getting started in insurance must have to practice their pronunciations outside the office, because the longest word listed in the Duden German dictionary also belongs to the industry. It means “motor vehicle liability insurance.”
This word continues the theme of transportation, and is four words pieced neatly together to say “Danube steamship company captain,” which it seems we cannot handle all at once in English.
In German, numbers also receive the compound word treatment. This is the integer 7,254, which takes 38 letters to spell out.
Leave it to bureaucracy to produce even more clunky words. This one, which could take its place in a Mary Poppins song much like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” equates to “head district chimney sweep.”