Portmanteau Travels

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Another area for fun or indeed for those with a statistical mentality are particularly long words. Germany leads the way with a penchant for portmanteau words – some of which are already being consigned to obsolescence by German dictionary writers.

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz meaning “thelaw concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef’ is 63 letters long.

The Germans are particularly well-known for their love of long words. Called portmanteau words they consist of several words that are bolted together to form an extremely specific word often to do, in the instance of German with the world of work, such as:

Donaudampschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsjackenknopfloch (58 letters) the buttonhole in the jacket of a captain of the Danube steam boat company or Reichseisenbahnhinundherschiebershäuschen (41 letters) the little house of the state railway track shunter.

But they are not the only ones who like to create complex compound words as nouns. The Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes coined the 183 lettered lopado-temacho-selacho-galeo-kranio-leipsano-drim-hupotrimmato-silphio-karabo-melito-katakechumeno-kichl-epikossuphophatto-perister-alektruon-opto-kephallio-kigklo-peleio-lagoio-siraio-baphe-tragano-pterugon which translates as a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, fowl and sauces.

However, less fiction based are:

kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden (Dutch: 48 letters) preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession

honorificabilitudinitatibus (Latin: 27 letters) the state of being able to achieve honours (the longest word in Shakespeare from Love’s Labour’s Lost)

arbejdsløshedsunderstøttelse (Danish: 28 letters) unemployment benefit

prijestolonaslijednikovica (Croatian: 26 letters) the wife of a heir to the throne

tilpasningsvanskeligheder (Danish: 25 letters) adjustment difficulties

tapa-há-ho-huegeuvá (Tupi-Guarani Apiaká language of Brazil: 16 letters) rubber

Among languages that build up very long words for both simple and complex concepts are those defined as  ‘polysynthetic’, many of them are found in Australia or Papua New Guinea. The Aboriginal Mayali tongue of Western Arnhem Land is an example, forming highly complex verbs able to express a complete sentence like:

ngabanmarneyawoy-hwarrgahganjginjeng (35 letters)  I cooked the wrong meat for them again. (This breaks down into nga: I, ban: them, marne: for, yawoyh: again, warrgah: wrongly directed action, ganj: meat, ginje: cook, ng: past tense.)

Elsewhere, around the globe, we find: megszentségtelenithetetlenségeskedéseltekért (Hungarian: 44 letters) “for your unprofaneable actions”

palyamunuringkutjamunurtu (Western Desert language, Australia: 26 letters) ‘he or she definitely did not become bad’

nakomajnytamjunnbolamyk (Koryat language of Siberia : 23 letters) ‘they are always lying to us’

The capital of Thailand is abbreviated by all Thais to Krung Thep, and referred to as Bangkok, meaning literally grove of the wild plums. But, bearing in mind that there are no spaces between words in written Thai, its full correct interpretation is:

Krungthephphramahanakhonbowonratanakosinmahintharayuthayamahadilokphiphobnovpharadradchataniburiromudomsantisug (111 letters) meaning: City of Angels, Great City and Residence of the Emerald Buddha, Impregnable City of the God Indra, Grand Capital of the World, Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, Abounding in Enormous Royal Palaces which resemble the Heavenly Abode where reigns the Reincarnated God, a City given by Indra and built by Vishnukarm.

In fairness however the longest place name still in regular use is for a hill in New Zealand. The Maori name:

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapihimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaakitanarahu (85 letters) translated as The brow of the hill where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and ate mountains, the great traveller, sat and played on the flute to his beloved.

It rather leaves this Welsh submission in the shade:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillantysiliogogogoch  (58 letters)

(meaning St. Mary’s Church by the pool of the white hazel trees, near the rapid whirlpool, by the red cave of the Church of St. Tysilio).

Next comes Webster Lake, in Massachusetts, is also known as:

Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagogchaubunagungamaugg (48 letters) which was a native word for a neutral fishing place near a boundary: a meeting and fishing spot shared  by several tribes. A popular interpretation is “You fish on your side, I fish on my side, nobody fishes in the middle”.

The longest real English words are, in descending length:

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (English: 45 letters) the longest word in a major dictionary, a technical word for a lung disease created by silica dust inhalation

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (English: 34 letters; from the Mary Poppins film and musical with a fanciful defintion)

hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism (English: 33 letters) which means the love of long words

pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism (English: 30 letters) the longest non-coined word in a major dictionary for a specific inherited medical disorder

floccinaucinihilipilification (English: 29 letters coined in 1741) meaning the categorizing of something that is useless or trivial (the longest unchallenged non-technical word)

antidisestablishmentarianism (English: 28 letters) the longest non-coined and non-technical word


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