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The Longest German Word?

Das längste deutsche Wort?

Is there such a thing?


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Ger. Words 1 > Ger. Words 2 > Word of the Year > Longest Word

Students of German seem to enjoy trying to find the "longest German word." More than most other languages, German tends to string words together to form new vocabulary. All languages, including English, do this to some extent, but German really likes to create long words. As Mark Twain said, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective."

German can do this because its grammar allows words to be strung together to form one lengthy term that English and other languages usually break up into several words. The classic longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, which in English becomes four words: "Danube steamship company captain." But that German word has a mere 41 letters (42 with German spelling reform, which adds another f to the "schifffahrt" element), while some longest-word candidates run as long as 80 characters.

But is there really such a thing as the longest German word... das längste deutsche Wort? Some of the suggested "longest" words are artificial creations, never used in daily spoken or written German. German numbers and scientific terms also come into the running, but a word chosen in 1999 as the longest word for that year (see below) was a "legal" word in the true sense of the term, since it referred to a law for labeling meat. But even if we accept that 63-letter word, a German-speaking person could go a very long time without ever having to read it, much less use it! For all practical purposes this longest-word contest is really just a game. It's more fun than practical. (Even a German or English Scrabble board only has room for 15 letters.) But if you'd like to play the longest-word game, here are a few selected items to consider.

Lange deutsche Wörter
Long German Words

Words listed in alphabetical order (with gender, letter count)

(die, 41 letters) "regulation requiring a prescription for an anesthetic"

(der, 30 letters) This word may be short in comparison to those below, but it's a real word submitted by Robin in our Forum, taken from a letter he received. It means roughly "head district chimney sweep."

bauunterbeamtengesellschaft (one word, no hyphen)
(die, 79 letters, 80 with new German spelling [one more 'f' in ...dampfschifffahrts...]) "association of subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services" (the name of a pre-war club in Vienna) - Not really useful, this word is more of a desperate attempt to lengthen the word below.

(der, 42 letters) "Danube steamship company captain"

(die, plur., 39 letters) "legal protection insurance companies"
According to Guinness, this was the longest German dictionary word in everyday usage, but the word below is a longer legitimate, official "longest word" — in semi-everyday usage.

(das, 63 letters) "beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law"
This was a 1999 German Word of the Year, and it also won a special award as the longest German word for that year. It refers to a "law for regulating the labeling of beef" - all in one word, which is why it is so long. German also likes abbreviations, and this word has one: ReÜAÜG.

Also see: German Tongue Twisters - Zungenbrecher

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German Numbers - Zahlen

Another reason why there really isn't a single longest German word: German numbers, long or short, are written as one word. For example, to say or write the number 7,254, not really a very long number, the German is...
siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig, a single word of 38 letters. Larger numbers would, of course, make even longer German words.

Longest English Word

Just for comparison, what about English? The longest word in English is not "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (an invented word). Just as in German, there is disagreement about the actual longest word, but English can't keep pace with German in this department.

(28 letters) a legitimate dictionary word from the 19th century meaning "opposition to the separation of church and state"

(45 letters) "lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust" - Linguists claim this is an artificial word, and it does not deserve true "longest word" billing.

Technical words: There are many English technical and medical terms that qualify as long words, but they are usually excluded from the longest-word game.

FORUM > Discuss this article in our Forum!

MORE > English-German Glossaries - "normal" German words
MORE > German Tongue Twisters - Zungenbrecher
MORE > German Word of the Day - daily vocabulary

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