Fusing Words Like The Pros From Germany

in linguistics •  2 months ago  (edited)

In the German language we have this habit that is rather peculiar to many non-native speakers. You will encounter a word somewhere, a word that seems impossibly long and complicated and my American friends ask me: "What the hell does that mean? Why is that word so long?"

It's not that Germans give multi-syllable words to things that could just be called by one or two syllables. Rather, we are utilizing a certain technique in order to define and refine meanings of words further, to a single point of meaning and designation - namely by putting several words together to form a new one.


What do you mean putting words together

It's a concept not entirely unknown to the english language speaking world. Take the word bedroom for example.

Bedroom consists of the words bed and room. A room for a bed. A room where the bed is.
Bedroom is just more concrete than saying room, and it's more elegant than saying "a room where the bed is".

So the idea here is to take that simple insight and apply it to other terms, to other words and things that could use some extra defining without making it cumbersome.

If we continue with the bedroom example, there is the German word "Schlafzimmerblick". It contains the words Schlafzimmer (bedroom) and Blick (look) fused into one word. Schlafzimmerblick refers to what Americans call "bedroom eyes", only that Germans make a new term out of it instead of putting several words into a row with a space in between.

Sometimes this can help making a text more concise. If I were to say: "In the bedroom eyes were staring back at me" it would lead to confusion because it hinders the flow as we are unclear about units of thought. The context makes it plain but it can be quite tedious to interpret the meaning out of complex texts like this. And so we can use these long fused words to help separate the units of thought into a more readable and graspable structure.


Rough to specific

These fused words generally follow the rule of going from large to small, from rough to specific, from crude to defined. And so, sticking with the bedroom still, for another example we could use this way of language to describe to someone where we left the key. By using one word.

"Where is the key?" - "Schlafzimmerschranktürknauf"

Schlafzimmerschranktürknauf literally means "bedroom dresser door handle" but consists of one unit of thought and cannot be confused with any verbs accidentally spelling the same way as the thing we are talking about (handle).

We could naturally go further. Like when you describe to someone what you do for a living, designing said door handles. "Schlafzimmerschranktürknaufdesign" - I make "bedroom dresser door handle designs".

Since I love this way of talking so much I have started using it on Steem for a while now, creating somewhat of a hybrid between both ways of fusing language - the German and the English.

In it, I put the words into a row like it is common in English but replace the empty spaces with hyphens to signify that "one unit of thought" idea I was getting at earlier. So the thing would literally spell: "Bedroom-dresser-door-handle-design" which really does feel like one unit of thought, doesn't it?


I'm curious: Do you ever find yourself in need of better defining a thing you are talking about and if so, does this linguistic technique make sense to you for application in daily life? Try it out with some unsuspecting friends! At first they might think it's weird but just wait til they get it and marvel at how much you just said using only a few syllables.

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