How German came to have such ridiculously long words (cute video)

German is renowned for its long words. For example:


Which means “Danube steamship company captain.” They just cram all the thoughts together to make a much more convenient word.

Well someone has done a nifty video showing just how Germans go about creating such crazy long words. It’s a fun video, all in German, and most of it you’ll probably get – at least the first half – and if you speak any Romance languages you’ll probably understand the second half too.  But just in case you don’t, there’s a translation below the video.


Just to get your started the girl’s name is Barbara, and she’s known for her rhubarb cake – rhubarb in German is Rhabarber. So they call her Rhubarb Barbara, or Rhabarberbarbara…  (I’m told they might have misspelled rhubarb in the video, but no matter.)

(I’m told that to actually see my Facebook posts in your Facebook feed, you need to “follow” me.)

1. There’s a girl named Barbara.

2. She is known for her rhubarb cake.

3. So they call her “Rhubarb Barbara.”

4. To sell her cake, she opens a bar.

5. It is frequented by three barbarians.

6. They have beards.

7. When they want to get their beards groomed they go to the barber.

8. He goes to their bar to eat some cake, and then wants to drink a special beer.

9. You can only get his special beer at a special bar that sells it.

10. Where the bartender’s name is Barbie.

11. She’s the Barbie of the bar where the beer of the beard barber for the barbarians of Rhubarb’s Barbara’s bar is sold. But all in one word.

12. At the end, the barbarians, the barber, Barbie, and Barbara all go to the bar for a beer. You might need one too after this. Prost!

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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48 Responses to “How German came to have such ridiculously long words (cute video)”

  1. C’mon, John, have you never heard the Long Island dialect? What really throws me off is Southern, for I have never been south of Washington. It took me awhile to understand it. The Boston speech I never had problems, but then it was probably because of the Kennedys.

  2. Ah, but now we’re back to the original criticism. Why use longer words for a concept already worded? Week (Woche) and year (Jahr) are one syllable, so the other words are unnecessary. As for fortnight, maybe we could use tw(o)eek? Only a tweek until Christmas!
    I really should find a way to monetize my interests! Anyway, century is Latin and three syllables, but hundryear is Anglo-Saxon and two syllables. We could go back to having Anglo-Saxon words mean a worse type of the meaning, such as the Hundred Years’ War lasted over a hundyear! Do we have a group of related people who live together but don’t care for each other? That’s no family, it’s a folkship!
    Perhaps we could continue the practice with meat; beef vs cow, mutton vs lamb, pork vs pig, cancer vs crab, cerf vs deer. I like cancer, but I don’t think much of cerf!

  3. Mark_in_MN says:

    Norwegian tells time in a very similar manner. I actually think their system makes more sense.

  4. Mark_in_MN says:

    I don’t know that it’s really since the norman invasion. Read Jane Austen and you’ll run across sennight (a week) and twelvemonth (a year), words we don’t use anymore. They’ve gone out of the language sometime in the last 200 years. Somehow, though, fortnight has survived in occasional use.

  5. glasper9 says:

    No germanic language, including English, has a native word for “orange.” Before orange came in, “red” covered the spectrum of orange, which is why people with orange hair are called “red-heads.”

  6. Well, John, you and I are philological buddies. I just wish I’d push myself into ending my monoglottism and pick up a few foreign languages like Benny Lewis, Mike Campbell, Tim Doner, and you.

  7. Sami Loker says:

    yYou must complete display

  8. That’s interesting about quiche – Kuchen and cake are related of course.

  9. Is that a real sign?

  10. Your dictionary is wrong. Because the noun ends in -er, it is masculine. In fact the English word ‘Computer” is also masculine. I had originally thought that modern German took foreign words in as neuter, unless they refer to persons. French is doing just that, making foreign words masculine. By the way, I hardly ever use my farseer (neutral) because I have no cable and spend too much time on line with my computer (neutral), or should I call it a numbercruncher?

  11. and the relevance is? The Middle Ages ended around 1500. Voltaire came centuries later, after European nations had united and left feudalism. Charlemagne, who was emperor in the early ninth century, combined modern France and Germany. Furthermore, the Franks themselves were a Germanic tribe. My point was that there has been much mixing between the languages, so there are similar words in both.

  12. Monoceros Forth says:

    Oh, nonsense. I totally trust these people to translate the Bible. Don’t you?

  13. emjayay says:

    In German, words are pronounced like they are spelled. Except sometimes, like orange (which means orange). It’s pronounced like French. I guess they didn’t know about a color between red and yellow before some French guy explained it.

  14. emjayay says:

    Leaving Brooklyn.

  15. emjayay says:

    Or, in their cute German way, Fernseher. (Far/distant/remote see-er). My dictionary says it’s a das, but it seems like a boy to me. TV Channels are boys, shows are girls.

  16. Jim Olson says:

    The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. Ce corps qui s’appelait et qui s’appelle encore le saint empire romain n’était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire. In Essai sur l’histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations. Voltaire – Chapter 70 (1756)

  17. Jim Olson says:

    They make us take Greek and Hebrew in seminary for a reason. At least, *some* of us have had these languages. It’s clear that some of my colleagues have not.

  18. Very likely, many of those words came from French. After all, both nations were part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. There are Teutonic sounds in French (eu and u), and quiche comes from Kuchen! Charlemagne (Charles the Great in Old French) was actually German, and Karl means “guy”. Supposedly his mother exclaimed when he was born “Wie ein Kerl!” (Modern German) What a guy! because he was so big.

  19. Actually the tendency now is to use acronyms (highwords in Anglo-Saxon), so even that current comet is ISON. Your point I have already address, where I would still use (horseless) car(riage), instead of selfbewayer. Besides, that example also shows the tendency to shorten up long words, like the (an)droids in Star Wars or the comp(uter)s you are using. In my other post, electronic mail address just became edress, which I discovered around 2009.
    I personally prefer ho(ward)jo(hnson)s. So I used to talk of vid cass res, or now digi discs, cert des versus comp discs, and the old telvision.

  20. Primarily when used in a new way, such as a participle and another word as a part of speech: problem-solving skills. It could also be a relatively new word, such as to-day, to-morrow, base-ball, week-end, or even e-mail! Usually, it is best on the latter to go right for the compound, such as edress.

  21. Phil says:

    Thanks to my grandparents (unintentional), I can understand German pretty well – until I see it in writing.

  22. emjayay says:

    English English uses a lot more hyphens too.

  23. emjayay says:

    I just got the connection there.

  24. emjayay says:

    Fortunately German spelling and pronunciation is much more consistant than ours.

  25. emjayay says:

    And they insist on saying numbers the hard backwards way. (….neunundneunzig = nine and ninety). Like we used to count blackbirds in a pie.

  26. Tatts says:

    The narration just slays me. I love the tone of her voice. Can’t. Stop. Watching.

  27. nicho says:

    Which is why it’s silly for these Christians to run around quoting snippets from the bible as if they were of great importance. The original versions in the Greek are way wat more complicated than the oversimplified and dumbed down English translations would have you believe.

  28. Naja pallida says:

    Why use a large word when a diminutive one will suffice?

  29. Hello says:

    I actually understood evreything in there 0____o living in Switz, and I see things like this alot xD

  30. Actually I think since the Norman invasion, English tends to be too reluctant to combine words. Why aren’t words like twentytwo deemed correct? How about hundryear (totally Anglo-Saxon) for century? Instead we have long words out of Latin and Ancient Greek, which combined nouns like German.
    On the other hand, we don’t overdue the hyphens like French, which still has rendez-vous and week-end (a French and an English word, respectively)! Getting back to Anglo-Saxon, while I wouldn’t use selfbewayer for car, I would consider that I have no carhouse but I do have a carway alongside my house. Yesterday I bewayed to the bank, rather than drove, for I need the exercise.

  31. Wo ist das Grab? in Meer!

  32. S1AMER says:

    You’re absolutely right. English speakers have largely stopped forming compound words, and I believe we’ve lost something thereby.

  33. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Teaching ESOL (what ESL was called in the school system that employed me) was usually quite fun. Most of my students were Asian, and I felt like going to pieces when it was time to teach about articles, plurals, and counted and uncounted nouns.

  34. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:


  35. Indigo says:

    Ach! Mein Gott! Das ist ganz schrechlich!

  36. Indigo says:


  37. Indigo says:


  38. Bomer says:

    Well, I learned “where is the toilet, please” in class and for the life of me I forget where I picked up my goldfish is dead. It seems to be a trend with me though because all I can remember in Spanish is “my penguin is dead” (mi pinguino est muerto) and, from when I answered phones for a nun, Sister isn’t here (Sister no esta aqui).

    The German bit is “Mein goldfisch ist gestorben. Wo ist die toilette, bitte.”

  39. Naja pallida says:

    One of the things that got me the most was telling time. When referring to half past the hour, 2:30 is halb drei, or half three. Or they’ll be silly, with things like zehn nach halb drei, ten after half three, 2:40. And quite often they’ll randomly switch back and forth between the 12 and 24 hour clock, for no particular reason.

    They do numbers in run-on words as well, neuntausendneunhundertneunundneunzig.

  40. The_Fixer says:

    I have a love of old German audio equipment, and used to have a small collection of consoles and related equipment. Old Grundig, Telefunken console HiFi and Stereo consoles, and the like.

    Of course I have fixed a few in my time. The service information was all in German, of course. So I learned a tiny bit of it, as it relates to electronics, anyway.

    I could figure a lot out of it by context, but there was one that stumped me. I just couldn’t figure out “Nachbarzimmerlautsprecher”. I knew the tail end of it, lautsprecher, was loudspeaker, but the rest escaped me. I finally consulted a high school student who interpreted it as “Neighbor Room Louspeaker”, what we would call a “remote speaker”. He further explained how the Germans loved to make one big word out of several smaller ones.

    Which leads me to think that it must be hellish working with someone who is a bad speller in Germany. A couple of wrong letters and you’d have a real hard time figuring out what a word is.

  41. Correct, and if you speak Romance languages, like French, you’ll recognize most of the words, like “barbe” for beard, and “barbares” for barbarians.

  42. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’m reminded of a passage from H. D. F. Kitto’s book The Greeks in which he praises the Greek language: “It is the nature of the Greek language to be exact, subtle and clear. The imprecision and the lack of immediate perspicuity into which English occasionally deviates and from which German occasionally emerges is quite foreign to Greek.”

  43. Actually that’s a very good point about the compound nouns. Yeah, I really enjoy English, and the weird vestiges of all the other languages. I really need to re-read that History of English book I’ve got. I still remember one of my fav stories, an Argentine friend in grad school, who was at Gtown to learn English in the ESL program, and he just loved one expression I used to say – “what are you gonna do tonight?” Why? Because the way we say it in English (in American) is “whadayagnnadodnight?” He just thought that rocked :) And it was funny, because I’d never even thought of it. We’re so fortunate in a way that we were raised with this language. Though perhaps everyone is, with their own mother tongue.

  44. LOL how on earth did you learn that phrase? And why!

  45. Bomer says:

    When I was trying to learn German the term I heard for this was “boxcar words.” Sadly about the only thing I can remember in German is how to say My goldfish is dead. Where is the toilet, please.

  46. FLL says:

    It’s not really as bad as it looks, John. English speakers can use really long compound nouns, like “Danube steamship company captain.” All they’re doing in German is removing the word spaces. What looks like a single word to people who don’t know German is really more like a big compound noun that we would use in English. It’s fun once you get used to it.

  47. Tatts says:

    You’re wrong, Darrell. From that video, it’s clear that it’s a Barbaric language.


  48. Darrell says:

    German is a Germanic language, not a Romance one.

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