The word – which refers to the “law for the delegation of monitoring beef labelling”, has been repealed by a regional parliament after the EU lifted a recommendation to carry out BSE tests on healthy cattle.
German is famous for its compound nouns, which frequently become so cumbersome they have to be reduced to abbreviations. The beef labelling law, introduced in 1999 to protect consumers from BSE, was commonly transcribed as the “RkReÜAÜG”, but even everyday words are shortened to initials so Lastkraftwagen – lorry – becomes Lkw.
The law was considered a legitimate word by linguists because it appears in official texts, but it never actually appeared in the dictionaries, because compilers of the standard German dictionary Duden judge words for inclusion based on their frequency of use.
The longest word with a dictionary entry, according to Duden is at 36 letters, Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung, motor vehicle liability insurance.
However a 39-letter word, Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, insurance companies providing legal protection, is considered the longest German word in everyday use by the Guinness Book of World Records.
In theory, a German word can be infinitely long. Unlike in English, an extra concept can simply be added to the existing word indefinitely. Such extended words are sometimes known as Bandwurmwörter – “tapeworm words”. In an essay on the Germany language, Mark Twain observed: “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.”
The Teutonic fondness for sticking nouns together has resulted in other famous tongue-twisters such as: Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän – Danube steamship company captain – which clocks in at 42 letters. It has become a parlour game to lengthen the steamship captain’s name, by creating new words such as Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe, the captain’s widow. And, Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitänsmütze – the captain’s hat.
At 80 letters, the longest word ever composed in German is Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, the “Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services”.
The longest word in the Oxford Dictionary of English is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis – at 45 letters. Its definition is “an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease casued by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust.
The longest word to be found in Britain is the Welsh place name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.