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Word to Your Mutter

Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Germans are famous for melding nouns and adjectives together to form extremely long words. No hyphens, no spaces, just an assemblage of letters and umlauts as menacing as a mechanized division. For instance, the German word for -xenophobia is Ausländerfeindlichkeit. In Austria prior to its EU membership, a foreign student visa was known as an Aufenthaltsbewilligung. The word for foreign travel health insurance protection? Try Auslands-krankenversicherungsschutz. And while we’re at it, Frau Blücher! 

German sign

But according to the London Telegraph, we can now retire a 63-letter behemoth, Rindfleischetikettierungs-überwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. That’s the word for a “law for the delegation of monitoring beef labelling,” which “has been repealed by a regional parliament after the EU lifted a recommendation to carry out BSE tests on healthy cattle.”

“In theory,” notes the Telegraph, “a German word can be infinitely long. Unlike in English, an extra concept can simply be added to the existing word indefinitely. Such extended words are sometimes known as Bandwurmwörter—‘tapeworm words.’ ” The London daily goes on to quote Mark Twain, who once said, “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.”

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