German dictionary: So long, long words?

Writers' cramp The loss of the word could be good news for German sufferers of writers' cramp

The German language has lost its longest word. BBC News Magazine's Jon Kelly asks how lovers of plus-sized lexicography will cope.

Sesquipedalians - lovers of long words - will shudder. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobics - those with a fear of such grandiloquence - will be happier.

The German language, famed for its sprawling compound nouns, has lost its most circumlocutory term.

Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz - meaning "law delegating beef label monitoring" - has been excised from the lexicon. All 65 letters of it.

The word, introduced in 1999 in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, gloried in the barely less difficult-to-pronounce acronym RkReUAUG. But now it has been repealed following changes to EU regulations on the testing of cattle.

It's a somewhat prosaic fate for such an expansive expression.

To some, this is entirely natural. "The way language develops is that terms will shorten over time," says Denny Hilton, a senior assistant editor at the Oxford English Dictionary. "It's just how words tend to evolve."

However, lovers of verbosity - already embattled in an era of text-speak and, worse, emoticons - will despair.

Still, the German language remains replete with bandwurmworter (tapeworm words) sprawling across Teutonic pages.

The longest word to be found in the dictionary is kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung (36 letters) meaning "automobile liability insurance", although Guinness World Records also records Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (39 letters, meaning "insurance firms providing legal protection").

Now a campaign is under way to win recognition for even grander linguistic feats. Among the contenders is said to be donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe (49 letters), meaning the "widow of a Danube steamboat company captain".

German is not even the tongue with the most extreme example.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch station

"There are languages like Inuit where the whole sentence is a word - everything goes together in one enormous contraption," says Vivian Cook, professor of applied linguistics at Newcastle University.

English is unlikely to ever compete with such feats, says Cook - the Old English words from which the present-day language is derived tended to be short and sharp.

The Oxford English Dictionary's longest word, at 43 letters, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which refers to a lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust.

According to the OED, however, it was "invented [by the] president of the National Puzzlers' League in imitation of polysyllabic medical terms" and tends to occur "only as an instance of a very long word".

Still, the OED contains the Mary Poppins-derived supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ("expressing excited approbation") and honorificabilitudinity, meaning "honourableness".

And in 2012, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg struck a blow for long-word lovers in the Anglosphere when he used floccinaucinihilipilification (the "act or habit of estimating as worthless") in the House of Commons - at 29 letters, the longest word in Hansard.

Like-minded lexicographers could always escape to the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the longest place name in the UK.

Whatever the dictionary looks like, some of us will always find a way to be magniloquent.

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