Mark Twain said they were not words, but “alphabetic processions . . . marching majestically across the page” — the compound words the German language uses to capture precise or complex meanings, which are a cause of irritation for novices and a delight for those who manage to master the tongue.
But one compound noun has proved too much for German bureaucrats, who have decided to ditch what had been celebrated as the longest word in the German tongue. Rindfleischetikettierungs Uberwachungsaufgaben Ubertragungsgesetz has now been confined to the linguistic history books by authorities in Mecklenburg Vorpommern.
The word, which means “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef”, was introduced in 1999, during the BSE crisis. It was given the abbreviation RkReUAUG — which was itself unpronounceable.
But the 63-letter word was deemed no longer necessary after the EU halted BSE-testing on healthy cattle at abattoirs. The big question they are asking is which word will now take its place. “It was until now the longest authentic word in German usage,” Anatol Stefanowitsch, a Berlin professor of linguistics research told Die Welt .
The term Germans use to refer to such words is itself a compound: Bandwurmworter , or “tapeworm words”.
“The majority of these really long words are to be found in codes of law,” Mr. Stefanowitsch added. They compete with lengthy words often found in the chemical industry.
While RkReUAUG was introduced in 1999, it took a further eight years for it to be recognised as Germany’s longest word, only securing the title when the majestic 67-letter word GrundstUcksverkehrs Genehmigungszustan digkeitsUbertragungs verordnung — “regulation governing the delegation of authority pertaining to land conveyance permissions” — was ditched in November 2007.
Mecklenburg’s Agriculture Ministry has now issued a nationwide appeal for the new longest word. But whatever it is, the word is unlikely to make it into a German-language dictionary.
A spokeswoman for Duden, publishers of the most extensive German dictionary said: “For that, it has to be in common parlance, and long words are sometimes simply too
uncomfortable.” So the longest word currently to be found in the German dictionary is KrafTfahrzeughaftp flichtversicherung — “motor vehicle indemnity insurance”.
As Mark Twain said, “a word so long it has a perspective”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013