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Saturday, 15 October 2011

The German Way With Words

The Germans like portmanteau-words -
with not a single dash in sight.
New lexicons are for the birds,
their words will never see the light.

Inventors of a language glue
by means of which
a word will stick
to any other word they pick.
ThelongestwordthatIcanfind: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz:
(the labelling of beef, I'm told): like Topsy, it just grew.
Concatenation is their choice:
pronunciation takes your voice.

The words spool out, mile after mile -
and some are longer than the Nile
with words like trucks of endless trains.
They never have to scratch their brains
to find a word for something new
when strings of older words will do.

Or is it shortness that offends?
and joining makes the length that mends?


Raj said...

Or is it shortness that offends?
and joining makes the length that mends?

their cars, are just as long and intricate.

sunny said...

Hi Mr Dave,i like that poem, want to ask that what is the meaning of topsy.

Jim Murdoch said...

The strange thing is, when I think of the caricatured picture I have in my head of a German, I see, or hear perhaps, a laconic individual, serious, who speaks in short, sharp sentences spoken at high speed. It came as some surprise to me to discover their propensity for concatenation. There is a Wikipedia article on longest words which will wile away a few minutes if you’re interested. The Turkish entry is particularly interesting because it shows the construction of the word step by step.

jabblog said...

I heard someone say that singing in German made her face ache!

The Unknowngnome said...

Good one.

You beat me to the punch with this one. I was working the usage of portmanteau into a poem a couple of weeks ago but I haven't gotten it to fly yet.

Nice work as always Dave.

Carl said...

Great poem dave. Jabblog's comment made me laugh!

The Noiseless Cuckooclock said...

playful piece on WORDS.

keep it up.

kaykuala said...

'Inventors of language glue' that's hilarious1 I seemed to notice too, German words are long without full stops in between. Didn't make an impact on me as I don't know the language, anyway!
Btw Dave I wonder what 'cheatem' means. Not in the dictionary, is it something good?


Jim said...

Interesting indeed! I like your 'dry' wit.

john said...

This is great fun and well done (I stick to words of one sound here but I could say this is a hugelyenjoyablepoem).

Berowne said...

Ausgezeichnet! :-)

Mary said...

I definitely cannot move my tongue the right way to speak German well. I admire the talent of those who can!

Tabor said...


Victoria said...

I'm thinking of German poets who I love to read...Rilke and our own Claudia. Of course, I read them in English.:0)

Brendan said...

There's something old-magical (oops, sorry about the hyphen) in those armslengthGermanconstructions ... no, they don't do in English, where brevity is the soul of wit, and verse, and lingerie ... Those megawords are conjurations that have power, mortaring, without benefit of a hyphen, magic towers and Faustian halls. Alchemy and medicine both have strong German roots, and it may be that German penchant that gives us those snaky medical terms and labels (when I was a kid I remembered the longest anatomical name I could find just to show off my chops -- sternicloidomastoid -- for a muscle in the neck. Maybe Mary Poppins flew in from the Brocken, getting from there to London that one super etc. word. Fun poem. - Brendan

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, and Sanskrit, from this point of view, concatenation of words, beats German and it's even much more melodious!

Windsmoke. said...

Tried to learn German in high school without success, very enjoyable all the same :-).

Hannah Stephenson said...

So true! I often thought something similar while reading Heidegger's work....

Mama Zen said...

This is so true!

Dave King said...

True, very true.

Topsy is a character in "Uncle Tom's Cabin". The famous quote from her is: "I just growed."

You are not wrong in that. In fact, many German "words" would be seen as phrases in English, so the sentences can sound short and sharp, but when you see them written down...

Thanks for the info. One good turn deserves another: look up the German for "nipple"!

Like it, like it very much!

The Unknowngnome
Not to worry. I don't have copyright on the word. Good luck with the test flight!

Thanks - and, yes, it did me too!

The Noiseless Cuckooclock
A very warm welcome to you. Thank you for your interest.

Short for cheat them. Thanks for responding.

Good to have your comment. Thanks.

Hi and welcome to the blog. Like the comment! Thanks for responding. Much appreciated.

Vielen Dank! Good to have your company.

Ah, that makes two of us! Appreciate the comment.

It began as an exrecise in make do and mend.

Again: that makes two of us! Thanks for your thoughts.

Lovely reply, I did so enjoy reading this. As good as many a post and a great joy to read. Good to have you giving your thoughts.

I must take your word for that.

Not one of my languages, I fear.

Ah, yes, now I did try that - briefly.

Mama Zen
Thanks, there does seem to be general agreement. I thought there might be a bit of controversy.

JeannetteLS said...

My dad used to say he should have learned German, for the very reason about which you write. He said to me, when I was in college and felt that all the rules of writing had been turned on their heads, "Just remember this, sweetie. Never use a two syllable word where a six syllable one will suffice."

He loved to write doggerel and limericks. Hmm. Why on earth would your entry have made me think of that?

This was fun.

Jenny Woolf said...

I always used to be fascinated by "antidisestablishmentarianism" but to be honest I think that probably merits a hyphen. I rather like German portmanteau words, they have a kind of pleasant logic to them when you untangle them.

Dave King said...

I wish I'd known your dad!

You are right. They are very logical, but heavy and ponderous, I would have thought.