JUNE 3, 2013 6:34AM

Ach du meine Güte! Germany loses longest word

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 Mark Twain

He knew a thing or two about words...

EVER SINCE MARK TWAIN published his essay "The Awful German Language" in 1880, the language of Goethe and Mann has enjoyed a global reputation for the length of its nouns. As reported in today's edition of Spiegel Online, the state parliament of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania has formally abolished what had previously been Germany's longest offically recognized word:  Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. This means something like: "Beef labelling monitoring task transfer law," and was generally shortened to the handy abbreviation RkReÜAÜGThe now defunct law, which has been redrafted in a more bit-sized format, outweighed Germany's previous winner, the hefty and downright poetic  Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe, a.k.a. "Danube shipping company captain's widow." For a time, even it was eclipsed by Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungs-verordnung (something like "property transport approval authority transfer law").

Words like this may look offputting, but there's nothing particularly mysterious about them. German, like Finnish and Hungarian, simply tacks the different elements of a compound noun together rather than to leave them separate, as English does. That's why the longest terms don't even show up in dictionaries, simply because people can figure them out for themselves, or at least look up their component parts. Thus the intimidating Personennahverkehrsordnung that you're likely to see mentioned on official notices posted in streetcars and buses boils down to "local public transit ordinance," which the authorities neatly condense to "PNVO." Since anyone can (and does) make up compound nouns every day, only those contained in the dictionary or in scientific or legal texts get counted when it comes to determining the longest. Thus Mark Twain's own creation, the sonorous Freundschaftsbezeigungenstadtverordnetenversammlungen-familieneigenthümlichkeiten (figure it out for yourself) remains just that: a creation and not something you're likely to see in a law book.

By the way, the longest word in English refers to the lung disorder pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. The Germans are content to call this dreaded disorder Quarzstaublunge ("quartz dust lung"). Go figure.


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Alan,I just LOVE your sense of humour in this.I have had to laugh so hard, my tears are about to run down my face. For an English speaking person,the German language must be insurmountably difficult to learn and ,more important so,muster.
"Ach du meine Güte" is such cute example of word creation, anyone can have a good laugh at it.

You as an official translator, have offered the vice versus option in viewing and perhaps analysing a language.

Thank you for this fun read. (Is this the result of your family
recreation day, I wonder ?)
Sorry for the tipo:
...I meant "to master"
Comparison in length:

"Beef labelling monitoring task transfer law,"

"pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. "
" Quarzstaublunge ("quartz dust lung"). Go figure."
Thanks, Heidi. Actually, I never thought German was all that difficult, at least compared with French, which I personally find impossible to get entirely right, and Russian, which simply wore me out on top of my other university studies. Of course, developing a decent *style* in written German is a real bear, which I realize everytime I put pen to paper. But as I always explain to my mystified clients after a long day of simultaneous interpretation, "practice makes perfect."
"Practice makes perfect"...smiling.
Blame medical Latin for that pneumoblahblah thing I wish they'd give that up because "quartz dust lung" is much more descriptive and to the point. R&R ;-)
So much for antiestablishmentdisenrterians.
For Toritto:
"Bank fuer Gemeinwirtschaft" /Bank for common economy
I should add "Bank for Common Joined Economy "