The longest word in Europe is...

Article published on March 10, 2009
Article published on March 10, 2009
A European anthology of the longest and most unpronounceable words. At the cafebabel.com newsroom, we’re suffering from European dyslexia. Including audio and some cheeky Mary Poppins videos

How can you occupy ten minutes on the tube with just one word? If you haven’t mastered the German language, how about trying to say Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (we'll save you it’s dull translation… well, OK, if you insist: 'the law on the transfer of requirements and surveillance of labelling of beef'). We test the ability of the editorial team to say the word: results are a linguistic blunder from our French editor jane, a mildly dyslexic effort from the English side nabee, a verbal stew from our Spanish colleague ped, a failed attempt from our Italian journalist adi… and ten out of ten kathfor the German!

Germany is a great place for compound words. The secret? The Saxon genitive. A small 's' between words which allows them to attach themselves to whatever word precedes them. To say the same thing in French would require at least 14 words! In France and Spain the award usually goes to anticonstitutionnellementjaneand anticonstitucionalmentepedrespectively, less than 26 letters. A ridiculous score when compared to the Poish dziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowymary, which means 'to have 99 nationalities.' Another unpronounceable word unless Polish is your language. 

In the humour category, the statuette goes to England: the joke is to say that the longest word is smilesnab, because between there is a 'mile' first and the last 's'! Amongst these compound word gems which cause such painful pronunciation, neologism is included: Supercalifragilisticexpialidociousnab  (in Italian franci, in Spain ped, in French jane, in Germany kath), from the Disney film Mary Poppins (1964). The perfect nanny, who descends from the sky with the aid of an umbrella, taunted us with her singing of the flawless elocution of aword that has caused so many headaches ever since. The lyrics of the song explain that when pronouncing it, 'you will always have a precocious air' and that people will think that 'he must be an intelligent man.' Hmmm …

In the 'paradox' category, the Oscar for the longest word goes to Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobefr, which is attributed to the English, Spanish and German languages. Its meaning? 'The fear of pronouncing words that are too long.' No comment. And finally, the big winner of the contest is an Inuit word. I will let you discover it yourselves as I’m still in the process of counting the letters …

Check the illustrator Henning Studte's personal website out here