Tuesday, September 30, 2014

English speakers often make fun of German's long words – and rightly so.

English speakers often make fun of German's long words – and rightly so. In my personal unscientific way, however, I often have to disappoint them when I say: These aren't actually independent words per se, instead this is just a different spelling rule where compound words are constructed by joining independent words with zero characters where English sanely (and to great comfort of natural language processing algorithms out there) uses the space character. So, how would English look with the German spelling rule applied?

Here is Yonatan Zunger's recent insightful post https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/5zURdTM5xMW with the zerolengthcompoundwordjoiningrule applied:

When in the aftermath of 9/11, we created a "homelandsecuritydepartment," I was certain at first that it must be a bad joke; it combines the two most terrifying namingschemes of the twentieth century into one.

First, we have the one described in this article: "Homeland" was a favoriteword of the Nazis, and they used it to label everything. Because of this, the word disappeared from the politicallexicon of the western world after 1945; nobody in their right mind wanted to use it. 

The second is the general format: the twentieth century was also famous for a bestiary of ministries, departments, and committees of state-, national-, and homelandsecurity. I once asked a German friend of mine just how the press there translated the name of the DHS; she told me that for the obvious reason, they just left it as "DHS." That would be because Germany had its own statesecurityministry, the Staatssicherheitsministerium, or "Stasi" for short. The USSR had its statesecuritycommittee (Комитет государственной безопасности, or KGB for short); in fact, nearly every Communist dictatorship had something following this namingscheme.

I'm not sure what kind of collectiveamnesia, sick sense of humor, or thinlyveiledthreat was behind the decision to give it this name. 

PS: Besides the spelling aspect the word-character of these compounds, does seem to increase the likelihood of the compound word transcending above the original meaning leading to beautiful examples such as Zeitgeist, Weltschmerz and Schadenfreude.