How to make really long words in German


That was…entrancing.

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If only they had added a barbell welding barbarella impersonator.


Mark Twain said, “I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.”

And now I’m wondering why because this makes German seem like the most fun language to play around with.


In my HS courses in German, I learned they hate making new words. If they can combine two or more words already existing to make a new word, they will. Example, a mitten is literally a “hand shoe”.


It is, if you don’t mind creating a term and then being told that it is ‘wrong’ for reasons no-one can explain, whilst Germans misappropriate and invent pseudoanglicisms all the damn time. Like calling a mobile phone a ‘Handy’ (and pronouncing it ‘hendy’), referring to a slipover/tank-top as a ‘pullunder’ (why use one of the two correct terms when a pullover-based malapropism is possible?), or referring to his-n-hers matching outfits (itself a ghastly expression of German identity) as ‘partnerlook’ - as if people in different outfits cannot appear to be romantically involved - when speaking as a Northerner from the UK, I can state with considerable authority that this phenomenon (usually accidental between friends) is referred to as “TWINNIES!!!” - to be exclaimed while pointing and laughing.

On the other hand, if you’re thick-skinned and have a sense of humour (the latter requires the former in Germany anyway, at least in the former West) then you can have no end of fun playing with the uniquely lego-like modularity of the language. I have managed to inculcate my German in-laws to the use of the novel term ‘Trottelheit’ - literally ‘stupid-ness’, as a substitute for the proper ‘Trottelichkeit’ for use in instances of particular banality or egregious bone-headedness.


In Dutch too. We’ve other strange words too, like “hoofddeksel”, a hat literally a “head lid.” :slight_smile:

And yet they have two words for ‘lathe’ depending upon whether it is for wood or metal.

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Does anyone know the original source of the audio recording, and of the text? I’ve seen this particular video, and many other renditions, on various video sites, and I’ve spotted the text (in various forms) on web sites going back to the mid-1990s. I’d love to know who the author is.

To be fair to the Germans…Cockney Rhyming slang. :grinning:

Rhyming slang is a riddling tradition comparable to skaldic verse. Anyone is free to innovate within it. For instance, where once a stupid fellow was called a berk (shire hunt), he may well now be a James Blunt, which has a sort of delightful circularity to it.

It’s also conducted in the language from which it originates. That said, sometimes we use German terms unneccessarily. In most instances where a germanism is adopted, it makes sense to - there is no English equivalent to ‘Schadenfreude’, although most English speakers fail to pronounce the final ‘e’, and Zeitgeist would be clumsily rendered as ‘the spirit of the times/age’. In fact, there are some terms such as ‘Fremdschaemung’ (Embarrassment felt on behalf of another or a stranger) which we could benefit from. However I’ve noticed a tendency amongst some people to use the term ‘verboten’ in otherwise English sentences, despite the perfectly serviceable and almost identical ‘forbidden’ already existing in our language. I don’t know whether this is an attempt to appeal to racist German stereotypes (Germans are authoritarian so verboten is even more forbidden!) or simple pretentiousness after the manner of French malapropism in the 1980s, but it is vastly annoying.

Here’s something similar in Sanskrit:

न नोननुन्नो नुन्नोनो नाना नानानना ननु ।
नुन्नोऽनुन्नो ननुन्नेनो नानेना नुन्ननुन्ननुत् ॥
na nonanunno nunnono nānā nānānanā nanu
nunno’nunno nanunneno nānenā nunnanunnanut

Translated, it’s "Translation: “О ye many-faced ones (nānānanā), he indeed (nanu) is not a man (na nā) who is defeated by an inferior (ūna-nunno), and that man is no man (nā-anā) who persecutes one weaker than himself (nunnono). He whose leader is not defeated (na-nunneno) though overcome is not vanquished (nunno’nunno); he who persecutes the completely vanquished (nunna-nunna-nut) is not without sin (nānenā)”


I watched this wishing my father (emeritus prof of German) was still alive to giggle at it with me.

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Long German words are a lot less entertaining when you’re the navigator in the car, looking at the map for the needed left-hand turn leading to your hotel, at night, on an under lit German road, and by the time you’ve gathered all the syllables together and sounded it out, you realize you passed the turn two miles back. Next time we’ll be enjoying their high-efficiency trains.

Berkshire and Berk aren’t pronounced the same though. Never understood that one.

I also ought to point out that the quote you selected is from ‘The Awful German Language’ - a work which is dedicated to Mark Twain playing with German whilst protesting that he is incapable of doing so. So the statement should be taken less than literally. Also, as regards declension, German is a horror. I actually had to leave the country in order for it to start making any kind of sense.

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Me neither! I guess that lopping off the ‘shire’ bit that signals to an Englishman that the word should be pronounced ‘Bark’, the word reverts to a more phonetic pronunciation. However, the idea that an Englishman would assume that a word should be pronounced according to its spelling is extremely dubious. My entire supposition also depends upon Cockney literacy being high, which is far from certain.

Using a ‘Navi’ (satnav) is also fun, since they don’t seem to differentiate between ‘turn’ ‘bear’ or ‘keep’ left or right. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could say all those things in German, but the Navis I’ve used use the terms interchangeably, without reference to the actual manoeuvre that you are to perform.

(I just had to look up the English for Navi, oddly).

Here’s a fun one from Japan:

すもも も もも、もも も もも、すもも も もも も もも の うち。

(Sumomo mo momo, momo mo momo, sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi.)

“A plum is a peach, a peach is a peach, both a plum and a peach are kinds of peaches.”

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Reminds me of the Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den…

Years ago I worked with a guy (American) who had lived in Germany for a number of years. He and some friends would amuse themselves by composing long German words, like “the hat on the head of the wife of the mayor which is red…”

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