Schottenfreude – incredibly useful German compound words

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Germans are experts at stringing words together to produce interesting – even quite necessary – words of often quite incredible length. I mean why say ‘lover’ or ‘partner’ when you could much more accurately say that she’s your  Lebensabschnittpartner, ‘the person I am with today.’ That one comes from an article in The Week on ‘Eight of our favorite ridiculously long German words.’

Many of those German compound words are so perfectly descriptive we use them in English – Zeitgeist, Doppelgänger, Wanderlust and Schadenfreude for example. Schadenfreude translates directly into English as ‘harm-joy,’ but more accurately as ‘the pleasure you get from other’s misfortunes.’ Or the feeling you get when somebody has an accident in their Porsche.

Schottenfreude 542

Other German compound words are perfectly sensible, you’re woken up in the morning by der Radiowecker, the radio-alarm clock.

Ben Schott’s book Schottenfreude creates a list of perfectly sensible compound words that if they don’t exist clearly should. The cover blurb line ‘There should be a German word for that?’ is absolutely accurate. Some of my favourites:

Schmutzwortsuch – dirty-word-search – looking up rude words in the dictionary
Dornhöschenschlaf – thorny-lingerie-sleep – feigning sleep to avoid unwanted sexual intimacy
Gastdruck – guest-pressure – the exhausting effort of being a good houseguest.

Or a seriously long one – Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss – automobile-interior-furnishing-new-aroma-pleasure – well doesn’t the world need a word for that ‘new car smell?’

Or Fingerspitzentanz – fingertips-dance – those tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity – which, the book explains, includes feats such as ‘inserting a USB plug right-side up, first time.’ Well I can identify with that.