Why We Germans Don’t Play Scrabble

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Growing up with an expert fluent German speaking grandmother the first thing I found strangely fascinating about the German language was that a single word could go on and on until you ran out of breath or got totally lost in the middle of that word. Luckily for me she lived with us while I was in high school, I was taught more German at home than my teacher ever knew. It was absolutely fantastic watching her struggling while having to look things up! Here is a super simple and easy example, Geschwindigkeitsbeschränkungen, all 30 letters of it, a very big word for a fairly simple idea (it means speed limits).

To people who disparage German and praise the Latin-based languages as more creative, easier to learn and more likely to be useful, I simply reply: ah yes, but how many words of 30 letters or more do they have? Can they render complex ideas, such as a person who wears gloves to throw snowballs (Handschuhschneeballwerfer) or a man who pees sitting down (Sitzpinkler) in one deliciously singular word? Several editions of the Guinness Book of Records list Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhaupt-betriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, (why, the association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services, of course) as the longest compound in the German language, even if there’s no evidence that such an association ever existed in real life.

Shops get in on the act as well, like the one above: Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih, I’m reliably informed, this is the place to turn to if you need your wooden floors sanded down.

German compound nouns are just about the best thing about any European languages. Sometimes they can result in three of the same letter butting up against each other (Schifffahrt, journey on a ship, which looks so wrong but isn’t, and seeerfahren, skilled at navigating, which is what you’ll need to be on a Schifffahrt, or else you might bump into a Seeelephant or, if you’re very unlucky a Schneeeule).

Sometimes they can be pure poetry, a far better way of saying the boring things of their English equivalent (Schnellschrauber = power drill). Sometimes they can help you understand other languages and the nature of matter itself (Sauerstoff = oxygen = bitter thing).

So this entite post is a celebration of the best of the German language, something rarely spoken in my own home now or by me and the opportunity for you to share your personal favorite compound noun. Neologisms are always welcome. Don’t forget to spell your word correctly and let us all know what the word means, or there’ll be Leserkommentarspaltenhöllenlärm (all hell breaking loose in the comments).

2 responses to “Why We Germans Don’t Play Scrabble

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