Here's How Crazy-Long German Words are Made

German is known for its extra long compound words. When Mark Twain complained that some German words were “so long they have a perspective,” he was thinking of words like Freundschaftsbezeigungen (demonstrations of friendship) and Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen (general states representatives meetings). Long German words were in the news this year when many sources reported that Germany had “lost its longest word” because the European Union removed a law from its books called (*ahem*): Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (the law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling).

But Germany had not in fact lost its longest word, because the process for forming these words is an active, productive part of the language, and the potential exists for creating words even longer, if so needed in the moment. How does that process work?

This lively animation takes you, step by step, through what’s involved in creating Rhababerbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbierbarbärbel, a completely valid (and probably never before uttered) word.

The video is in German, but that shouldn’t deter you. The artwork makes it pretty clear what’s happening, meaningwise. Here are a few clues to help you follow the steps:

1. There’s a girl named Barbara.

2. She is known for her rhubarb cake.

3. So they call her “Rhubarb Barbara.”

4. To sell her cake, she opens a bar.

5. It is frequented by three barbarians.

6. They have beards.

7. When they want to get their beards groomed they go to the barber.

8. He goes to their bar to eat some cake, and then wants to drink a special beer.

9. You can only get his special beer at a special bar that sells it.

10. Where the bartender's name is Barbie.

11. She’s the Barbie of the bar where the beer of the beard barber for the barbarians of Rhubarb’s Barbara’s bar is sold. But all in one word.

12. At the end, the barbarians, the barber, Barbie, and Barbara all go to the bar for a beer. You might need one too after this. Prost!

Hat tip to Languagehat.

11 Versions of “Average Joe” From Other Countries

santypan/iStock via Getty Images
santypan/iStock via Getty Images

Average Joe, Joe Schmo, John Doe. He’s bland and average. Faceless, but not nameless. Every country needs a way to talk about just “some guy.” Here’s what 11 countries call that typical guy, who might have no specific qualities, but is still “one of our own.”

1. Germany: Otto Normalverbraucher

Literally, Otto “normal consumer."

2. China: Zhang San, Li Si

This translates to “Three Zhang, Four Li”—a reference to some of the most popular Chinese surnames.

3. Denmark: Morten Menigmand

"Morton Everyman."

4. Australia: Fred Nurk

Sounds pretty normal to me.

5. Russia: Vasya Pupkin

With a name like that, it’s hard not to be a typical schmo.

6. Finland: Matti Meikäläinen

Meikäläinen looks like a typical Finnish surname, but it also means “one of us.”

7. Sweden: Medelsvensson

Just your average Svensson.

8. France: Monsieur Tout-Le-Monde

“Mr. Everyone.” Also goes by Jean Dupont.

9. UK/New Zealand: Joe Bloggs

Still an average Joe (but can also be a Fred).

10. Italy: Mario Rossi

In Italy they just use a common name.

11. Latin America: Juan Pérez

The same is true in various Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America.

A version of this list first ran in 2014.

When Are the Dog Days of Summer?

Dorottya_Mathe/iStock via Getty Images
Dorottya_Mathe/iStock via Getty Images

The official “dog days” of summer begin on July 3 and end on August 11. So how did this time frame earn its canine nickname? It turns out the phrase has nothing to do with the poor pooches who are forever seeking shade in the July heat, and everything to do with the nighttime sky.

Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky. The ancient Greeks noticed that in the summer months, Sirius rose and set with the Sun, and they theorized that it was the bright, glowing Dog Star that was adding extra heat to the Earth in July and August.

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