The 63-letter word easily beats the 48-letter Donau- Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe (Danube steamship company captain’s widow) which many German students learn at school.
But now Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which revelled in the abbreviation RkReÜAÜG, is no more. It was introduced by the Mecklenburg Western-Pomeranian state government in 1999 to organize testing of beef for mad cow disease, or BSE. Yet because the European Union recommendation for BSE tests on healthy cows is now being dropped, the need for the six-paragraph law has also gone. It will be replaced by a new law with the equally tongue-twisting – and fascinating – Landesverordnung über die Zuständigkeiten für die Überwachung der Rind-und Kalbfleischetikettierung (state edict on the responsibilities for the monitoring of beef and veal labelling).
Although the RkReÜAÜG might seem like an obscure legal term, it was officially classified as a word because it was used in published texts, said Berlin language expert Anatol Stefanowitsch. He said new laws were often a good source for such “tapeworm” words. “Most really long words come from legal texts,” he said, although he said chemical terms were often up there in the competition for longest word.
The special ability of the German language to simply stick words together could conceivably lead to even longer words, with the Society for the German Language (GfdS) once inventing the word Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetzesentw urfsdebattierklubdiskussionsstandsberichterstattungsgeldantragsformular for fun (beef labelling monitoring assessment assignment draft law debating club state of discussion reportage payment application form).
The hunt is now on for the new German record holder. “Other federal states will have to try to get a long word,” said a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania agriculture ministry.
Yet even the RkReÜAÜG never made it into Germany’s Duden dictionary – because it was simply not used enough. The longest German word in the dictionary is Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung (vehicle liability insurance).
“Long words are sometimes simply uncomfortable,” said Andrea-Eva Ewels from the GfdS.