Fun with Language


German is a difficult language to learn for non-native speakers and native speakers alike. It’s notorious – at least as far as I know – for the possibility to add different words together to create new ones. These newly created words are called compositum. A famous example would be “Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe” which means the widow of the captain of the corporation of the steamships. This example is pretty famous because it is long and consists of six words, or four words and the composita “Dampfschiff” (steamship) which again consists of the two words “Dampf” (steam) and “Schiff” (ship). This is again interesting: composita can be created recursively.  In a previous blog post, I had the example “Staubecken” which can be either dirty corners or a water reservoir. I can only imagine how difficult it is for foreign people, to try to split composita by finding all possibilities and then deciding which is the correct one based on the context – when you read an article about houses, the chances are high that “Staubecken” refers to the dirty corners and not a water reservoir found in the house.


Enough of the boring examples, both have their purpose and are great to show different things, but they are not the funniest example I know. I do know about a short composita which has two different meanings. Again, one is boring and common, the other is funny and I read it each and every time like that – I can’t help it! Let me share my funniest composita:




If you try to translate it with Google, you will receive “urine insects” and “primitive insects”. The first one is a translation gone wrong. The second translation, “primitive insects” is the boring split and – hopefully – the common use case. That leaves us with the funny part: “Urinsekten” can be created by adding the words “Urin” (urine) and “Sekten” (sects)!

In other words, at the few occasions when I’m reading this word, my brain first goes to the “sects which focus in some way on urine” place – which is gross and funny. If you want to make it worse, it is valid to have the hyphenation “Urin-sekten” in an article. It is advised against it – for obvious reasons – but grammatically correct.


And if you go back to the recursive creation of composita… Well, let’s just say: I admire everyone who tries to learn German! I wish you the best and a lot of patience in your journey to learn German!