It’s raining today and the Germans have a word for it – Regen.
Nothing remarkable about that I hear you say and indeed you’re correct. Germans have words for everything but the fun of the German language is their superstructure of compound nouns and verbs where they add words to words until they have a collection of letters that is truly teutonically titanic. They also display an efficiency of language and have have words for which English speakers don’t have an equivalent. For example Schunkeln in German doesn’t have an equivalent in English. I think it means “to link arms with the people to your left and right and to sway from side to side in time to the music.” It is so very tidy to have just one word for that concept because in English we need to use 23 words to convey a similar meaning. Another couple of neat examples are; Gemütlichkeit, which is a noun for feeling comfortable and Schilderwald, which means there are as many road signs as trees in a forest. It’s not compact but isn’t it typical of German efficiency to have a specific word to describe a tool designed to precisely decapitate your boiled egg? Most use a knife or a spoon but the Germans? Well, they have an Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher.
For complicated constructs you can’t conquer the Krauts. As Mark Twain said: “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.” Thinking about this, I stood back and admired the light glinting off some German words and expressions that are more than a match (in length) for some of the Welsh place names we have encountered.
There is much that I admire about the German people, their beer, design, beer, engineering, beer and sense of humour. Yes indeed their humour is very sophisticated – let’s face it anyone who understands my sense of humour (and Germans usually do), has to be well above average (ahem). I have on occasion thought about learning German. We have a 22 year old German built motorhome and I thought it would aid our communication with this younger member of our family. I could shout abuse when it won’t start, goad and encourage it to leap up hills (which it has a general reluctance to do) and praise it liberally when it manages to pass a truck on the Autobahn. Speaking German would also aid our communication with German trades people as whenever we try to get anything fixed on our Hymer I invariably fear the wurst and have to resort to drawing stick figures, small indecipherable diagrams involving cogs and nodding my head enthusiastically whenever a mechanic suggests changing das Schwungrad for das Lenkrad. In these situations I usually smile wanly and with a dry mouth manage to mutter: “Akzeptieren Sie Visa-Karten?”
However, given I have difficulty these days remembering people and places with English names, whenever the desire to learn German sneaks up behind me and taps me on the shoulder I immediately report myself to the Fuhrer of the Sausage People and lie down until the desire to smother everything with curry sauce passes. (German’s even pour it liberally over their famous Bratwurst – claiming curry sauce is second to Naan).
Another reason I have declined the opportunity of learning German is the complexity of their compound words. I think this one is a popular example for students: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän which in English becomes four words: “Danube steamship company captain.” I think it is permissible to make up these constructs so to take the above example, if the captain died and his widow received a pension, I guess it would become: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwenrente. I think I’ve got that right and may I take this opportunity to extend my sincere condolences to Frau Dead Captain as well as to all my German chums if I have just consigned your superbly precise language to the same watery grave as the gallant captain.
In the same vein: Eisenbahnknotenpunkthinundherschiebershäuschen is the little cabin where in earlier times the switchman would manually operate the levers that controlled the railway points and signals. So far I’ve resisted the temptation to construct a word that would describe; the remains of the fly on the wall to the left of the dirty window on the east side of the cabin where in earlier times the switchman etc. etc.
If I worked in Germany I’d like to have a job where I supervised the law governing the labelling of beef then I could have business cards that said: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. Sadly, there wouldn’t be room for my name. Nor would there be if I became der Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister – the head Chimney Sweep at the Council.
I’m a big fan of Schwarzwälderkirschtortenlieferantenhut (which I’m led to believe is “the hat of the black forest gateau delivery person”). Oh but wait! I’ve just found something longer and even tastier: Oberammergauerpassionsfestspieljubilaeumssahnekaeseschnittchen – which is a cheesecake made for the passion play held in Oberammergau.
Sadly for those of us who love these guttural mega structures, the 1998 Rechtschreibreform recommended that Mammutwörter (mammoth words) be hyphenated in order to simplify their readability. I think this takes a bit of the fun out of the game but there are still some delightful concepts – and this is my all-time favourite: Wackel-Dackel-Streichler (someone who pets the nodding dog in the car).