If there’s one thing I love about the German language – and one thing German is excellent at – it’s stringing words together to make new words. We do the same in English: sea-lion, armchair, fireplace; but they’re usually a little more straightforward and don’t get anywhere near as long as German words can. If something can be said in a single word, instead of a full phrase or sentence, the Germans will do it.
Connecting words in the way that German does means that a complex concept can be conveyed in just one word, giving rise to emotions and ideas that might need entire sentences in English. Here are some of my favourite German compound words. Some are already in use in English and some are not, but I’m not going to tell you which is which, so that you use them equally and spread them far and wide.
Bandwurmwörter (literally: tape worm words)
This is the word used to refer to these compound words. It makes sense; tapeworms are made of successive segments, just as these individual units have been strung together to form a new word. Tapeworms, though. Puke.
A face that’s crying out to be punched (or slapped). You all know someone with a backpfeifengesicht, or at least someone who sometimes has one.
Shadenfreude (literally: harm joy)
You’re probably familiar with schadenfreude. It’s the feeling of joy you experience when someone else experiences failure or misfortune. You’d probably experience a lot of shadenfreude if you found out your old school bully is now fat, bald and alone.
One of my favourites, weltschmerz has several meanings. It was coined to represent the feeling experienced by someone who realises the physical world can never satisfy the mind, but is also used to denote sadness when thinking about the evils of the world (which is how I like to use it).
Kummerspeck (literally: grief bacon)
The weight you gain from comfort eating. We’ve all put on a little kummerspeck from time to time. Post-break-up ice cream, Christmas-with-extended-family chocolate, no-one-understands-me cake. Unless you’re one of those weird people who deal with their emotions by exercising, in which case: go away, you’re not right.
Neidbau (literally: envy building)
This is a building you construct just to piss off your neighbour. Yeah. That’s really taking passive aggression to new levels. I’m not sure there’s much call for this word outside of Germany, but let’s try to find a place for it.
This isn’t a cool word you should all go forth and use. But, until it was determined to be “no longer needed” earlier this year, it was considered the longest word in the German language. It means “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef” – not very exciting, but still very long. The word was given a “helpful” abbreviation: RkReÜAÜG. Thanks, German beef authorities.
Do you have any more German words we desperately need to start using? If you could string together any number of English words to create a new word, what would they be?