The Longer the Better

“Luftfahrzeugerkennungshandbücher” is one of the words used in a German article I recently read. This overlong word made me smile and ponder a bit about how differently German and English speakers use their language.

letters-66952_1920Having lived in the US for over thirty years, I have largely adjusted to the English style of writing. Be succinct and to the point. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Avoid filler words without precise meaning, and beware of sentences that run too long. This is in stark contrast to the German way of writing and speaking.

For starters, in most sentences, the German verb is placed toward the end of a sentence. This means that the reader has to wait to understand the meaning of the sentence until the very end. Here’s a randomly made-up example: “Als ich mich frierend, mit leerem Magen und eiligem Schritt der Bushaltestelle näherte, fing es auch noch an zu regnen.” When I, freezing, with an empty stomach and fast paced to the bus stop approached, it also still began to rain. In English, we would say: “I was freezing and hungry as I hurriedly approached the bus stop, and it began to rain.”book-2168992_1920Germans have a whole array of words that they love to use which mean absolutely nothing. Not using them just doesn’t quite feel complete. For instance, the word “mal” may be used as “times” in the context of “four times four equals sixteen,” but most often, it’s just a filler. “Sag’ mal,” “Hör mir mal zu,” “Komm mal her,” etc. “Tell me,” “Listen,” “Come here.” As hard as I might try, there is no English equivalent. Other examples are “halt, denn, doch, schon, and ja.” They are used in everyday language, just for fun.language-1395322_1920My favorite examples are the uber-long words the German language lends itself to. Returning to above example, a native German speaker immediately divides  Luftfahrzeugerkennungshandbücher into three separate words: Luftfahrzeug – erkennung(s) – handbücher (aircraft – recognition – handbooks). The word refers to a booklet that shows images of friendly or hostile aircrafts for instant recognition. Of course, upon further reflection, one sees even more fragments, such as Luft-fahr-zeug = air – drive – thing.

12247181_1203296823020469_4158780875714971824_nA few months ago, a friend drew my attention to another great example: Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih. A real life store actually sports this sign. Here you go: Fussboden – schleif – maschine(n) – verleih (floor – sanding – machine – rental).

It’s a  fun adventure to learn the German language!

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