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Austria’s Word of the Year Has 52 Letters

Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung isn’t just a mouthful—it tells an annoying political story

Don't see a word you like? Make one up! (iStock/tioloco)
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Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it? Try it out for yourself: Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung. To an English speaker, it may seem like a meaningless, even endless assortment of letters, but it turns out that it’s an award-winning German word. As the Associated Press reports, a survey of 10,000 Austrians has chosen the lengthy noun as its word of the year.

Roughly translated, the word means “postponement of the repeat runoff of the presidential election.” The super-long word was coined this year in response to a similarly drawn-out presidential election in Austria.

In May, Austrians elected Alexander Van der Bellen to the presidency in May. But Van der Bellen’s victory was a narrow one, and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the country’s far-right party, contested the results and claimed that voting irregularities warranted a new election. The repeat runoff was due to go ahead on October 2, but then something sticky happened. As The Guardians Kate Connolly reports, the government requested a postponement of the repeat runoff when issues with the glue used to seal mail-in ballots were discovered. The election was postponed and a new term was born.

The election finally went forward with higher turnout. This time, the far-right party was rejected by Austrian voters by an even wider margin. The events were watched with amusement and exhaustion by Austrians. As the jury of experts who judged the contest told the Austrian paper Der Standard (in German), it is “both an expressive and ironic commentary [on] the political events of the year.”

The German language is famous for its compound words, which let speakers coin their own words by clumping together other ones. Since compound words can be made up on the fly by anyone and are so unwieldy they’re rarely used, they don’t always make it into the dictionary. Others make into into the news: In 2013, Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz (a name for an EU law concerning how beef labels are monitored that even had its own acronym), died when the European Union’s laws changed and was mourned throughout the press.

If you wanted to save a letter, you could spell Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung with an umlaut instead, making Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung. Those little symbols, which add an e to a vowel, are another example of how the German language lets speakers combine more than one thing. Or you could just marvel at how much longer it is than the longest word in the English language—pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

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