The Longest German Word in the World

Is There Such a Thing?

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The classic longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, which in English becomes four words: "Danube steamship company captain." 

More than most other languages, German tends to string words together to form new vocabulary. All languages, including English, do this to some extent, but German takes it to new extremes. As Mark Twain said, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective."

German can do this because its grammar allows words to be strung together to form one lengthy term that English and other languages usually break up into several words. 

But is there really such a thing as the longest German word... das längste deutsche Wort? Some of the suggested "longest" words are artificial creations, never used in daily spoken or written German. For all practical purposes, this longest-word contest is really just a game, more fun than practical. (Even a German or English Scrabble board only has room for 15 letters.) But if you'd like to play the longest-word game, here are a few selected items to consider.

Long German Words (Lange deutsche Wörter)

These words are listed in alphabetical order, with their gender and letter count.

(die, 41 letters) "regulation requiring a prescription for an anesthetic"

(der, 30 letters) This word may be short in comparison to those below, but it's a real word meaning, roughly, "head district chimney sweep."

bauunterbeamtengesellschaft (one word, no hyphen)
(die, 79 letters, 80 with new German spelling [one more 'f' in ...dampfschifffahrts...]) "association of subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services" (the name of a pre-war club in Vienna).

This word is not really useful; it's more of a desperate attempt to lengthen the word below

(der, 42 letters) "Danube steamship company captain"

(die, plur., 39 letters) "legal protection insurance companies"
According to Guinness, this was the longest German dictionary word in everyday usage, but the word below is a longer legitimate, official "longest word" — in semi-everyday usage.

(das, 63 letters) "beef labeling regulation and delegation of supervision law"
This was a 1999 German Word of the Year, and it also won a special award as the longest German word for that year. It refers to a "law for regulating the labeling of beef" - all in one word, which is why it is so long. German also likes abbreviations, and this word has one: ReÜAÜG.

German Numbers - Zahlen

Another reason why there really isn't a single longest German word: German numbers, long or short, are written as one word. For example, to say or write the number 7,254, not really a very long number, the German is siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig, a single word of 38 letters. Larger numbers would, of course, make even longer German words.

How Do English's Longest Words Measure Up?

Just for comparison, what about English? The longest word in English is not actually "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (an invented word). Just as in German, there is disagreement about the actual longest word, but English can't keep pace with German in this department. The language's two contenders are:

Antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters): This is a legitimate dictionary word from the 19th century meaning "opposition to the separation of church and state"

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (45 letters): The literal meaning of this term is "lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust." Linguists claim this is an artificial word, and it does not deserve true "longest word" billing.

Technical words: There are many English technical and medical terms that qualify as long words, but they are usually excluded from consideration.