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German Language and Culture
English to German

What is the longest word in the German language?

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May 11, 2011 2:28AM

German is a so-called "agglutinative" language. That means it is perfectly legitimate to string together related words that describe a particular person, thing, or situation and thus create a brand-new compound word. In some circles it's considered to be a bit of a linguistic sport to try to come up with ever-longer compounds. So in that sense, there isn't an official longest word. A "simple", if somewhat artificial, example:

Fernseher = television set (from fern = far, sehen = to see)

Farbe = color (or colour, if you prefer)

Apparat = apparatus, appliance

verkaufen = to sell

Haus = house

Leiter = manager, leader so ...

a Farbfernsehapparatekaufhausleiter is the manager of a store that sells colour televisions!!

In German these words are humorously referred to as Bandwurmwörter, or tapeworm words, because they curl on and on at great length. The usage is doubly humorous because "Bandwurmwort" is itself a tapeworm word! (P.S. I didn't lose control of my caps lock key; nouns in German are always capitalized, even if they occur in the Middle of a Sentence.) Although long words can be created in German some words that are generally accepted can be long, some examples include:

Büstenhalter, Geschlechtsverkehr, Geschirrspülmaschine, Elektrogeräte.

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According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest German word ever is Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtenge... (Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services) with 79 letters.

The longest German word in common usage is Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (legal protection insurance companies) with 39 letters.