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German’s Longest Word Is No More

Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, or an insurance company that provides legal protection, is now the language's longest word

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Photo: sAeroZar

There is a long list of long German words. Sometimes, they even show up in the real world. The longest word in the German language—the 63-letter-long Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz—was created to represent a law about beef regulation. But a local parliament decided to repeal the law, making Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz obsolete, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In German, complex ideas are frequently captured by bolting together short nouns. At its best, that brings a degree of simplicity to the language. For example, Germans say platzangst – literally, space fear — rather than the borrowed Greek of “claustrophobia,” or the word dreirad – three wheel — when an English speaker would say “tricycle.”

Sometimes, however, this system gets out of control. Mark Twain, a student of German, called such words “alphabetical processions,” the LA Times reports.

The language’s lengthy compound nouns have, inevitably, acquired their own compound noun: They are known as bandwurmwörter, or “tapeworm words.”

To make such words more manageable, they’re often abbreviated. Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz became RkReÜAÜG, for example. This, one hopes, is reassuring to people who have a fear of long words, or
hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.

Though Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz was considered an official word, it never entered the dictionary. As the LA Times reports, the longest German word with a dictionary entry currently is Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung, or motor vehicle liability insurance. Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, or an insurance company that provides legal protection, is the language’s longest non-dictionary appearing word. As the Atlantic points out, however, English has got it beat.  Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosi, or “a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust,” trumps Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften by six letters. 

Here’s a pronunciation guide to the fallen Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz: 

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