So, What’s the Deal With the Long German Words?

May 15, 2017

Mark Twain once wrote, “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.” He wasn’t far off the mark. German is definitely known for its ϋber-long words.

Many words in the German language are formed by combining two or more words, known in English as compound nouns. The meanings of the individual words have a direct bearing on what the compound noun means. The German language is, thus, very descriptive. A long time ago, rather than coming up with new words, the smart Germans just got words they already had and shoved them together to create words that any “Dummkopf” could figure out.

 

Let’s look at some examples:

Flugzeug: der Flug = flight/flying; das Zeug = thing.

So, what do you think a “flying thing“ would be? Duh. An airplane!

Let’s do another one:

Studentenheim: der Student = student; das Heim = home (don’t worry about the extra letters — they just add to the length!).

If you guessed “dormitory,“ you’re right!

 

Sometimes, believe it or not, Germans will get a little lazy (gasp!) by taking a foreign word and adopting it into their own language, like these English words:

  • City
  • Orange
  • Basketball
  • E-Mail
  • TV
  • CD
  • DVD

Of cors, zey are pronounst ekzectly like zee Chermans vood sey zem.

 

  • long german wordsAnd they’ve taken from the French, too. (Imagine that.)
  • Charmant (charming)
  • Genie (génie – genius)
  • Idee (idée – idea)
  • Mode (mode – fashion)
  • Pommes frites (frites – French fries )
  • Abonnement (abonnement – subscription)

 

But, these don’t have any good length to them. So, back to the long, descriptive German words:

Schreibtisch: schreiben = to write/writing; der Tisch = table.

A long word for “desk,“ isn’t it? This is fun.

Kühlschrank: kühl = cool; der Schrank = cabinet

Now, what would a “cool cabinet“ be? Of course! The perfect description of a “refrigerator.”

This is my favorite:

die Tollwut: toll = great; die Wut = anger, rage

 

Learning a Foreign Language at Excelsior

When my German students try to guess this one, most make fairly good guesses: temper tantrum, road rage, destructive violence, an outburst. It’s always necessary to give them a hint: Tollwut is an animal disease and the “great anger” is what’s displayed in the final stages. Of course, rabies. Cool, isn’t it? The German, I mean, not the rabies.

Want to see more of those mile-long German compound nouns? You got it.

  • Sozialversicherungsfachangestelltenauszubildender: A social security assistant trainee.

How about another?

  • Massenkommunikationsdienstleistungsunternehmen: Companies providing mass communications services. (Try to pronounce it without breathing).

Did you know that numbers are all written as one word in German? Check these out:

  • Zwölftausendfünfhundertsechsundneunzig: 12,596.
  • Zweiundzwanzigtausendvierhundertsiebenunddreißig: 22,437.
  • Siebenhundertsiebenundsiebzigtausendsiebenhundertsiebenundsiebzig: 777,777.

Now, for the grand finale. Not for the faint of heart or those with minimal lung capacity. Here is one of the longest words in the German language:

  • Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

You can go exploring for long German Words here.

 

long german wordsThis is the “Association of Subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services.”

At Excelsior Classes, in addition to learning a foreign language, our students are enriched by the inclusion of literature, history, culture, music, and art into their lessons using a variety of media.  Our elite foreign language instructors challenge students to excel in ways that are fun and exciting! All students speak during every class with the instructor and with each other.

 

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Since 2011, Susan Gleason has taught German online. She has an extensive background in foreign languages.

Traveling internationally since she was eight years old, her travels include Europe, Scandinavia, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, South and Central Americas, and South Africa. Susan studied German in college and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1986. In 1985, while still a college student, Susan led a Bible-smuggling operation into Soviet-controlled Estonia. She lived in Germany from 1986-1991, experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, and had some daring adventures outwitting East Berlin border guards. Susan did post-graduate studies at Universität Würzburg, Universität Bonn, and FAS Germersheim. She worked as an interpreter at the international trade fairs in Cologne, as well as a translator and private tutor.