Depending on how you count it, there are hundreds of thousands of words in English. We native speakers are proud of that. We like to think our language has more words than most (although we’re probably just full of ourselves). On the other hand, my experience of learning German has been one of frustration. It’s like being that proverbial Inuit person who is just stuck with snow, sleet, and hail in English and must think what dumb lunks we are and what a stupid language we have. I am always smacking into the wall that is there are several different words for something in English, all with slightly different shades of meaning, but only one rigid, totally insufficient word available in German. Although, of course, I can’t think of a single example at the moment. (And don’t say, “But–compound words!” because if squishing words together (like Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence + permit) for residence permit) doesn’t get you a new concept that your language didn’t have before, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t count in the count.) (Although I’m not quite sure which side of the fence I come down on for all of German’s “thingy” words… Fahrzeug (drive + thingy) for automobile, Flugzueg (flight + thingy) for airplane, Schlagzeug (hit + thingy) for drum set, etc.)
Anyway, whether or not English has more words than the average bear of a language, I think we can agree it has a lot. And yet, it always seems to be missing some.
This morning, as I was working on a story, the latest word I decided was missing was “quease”. Yes, okay, we have queasiness, which is exactly what it would mean. But the phrase, “… hit by sudden cold quease…” is so much more satisfying than “… hit by sudden cold queasiness…” Is there someone I could petition to make this change?!?
If it makes you feel any better, I’m always working on improving German for the Germans. If new compound words are encouraged, why has no one taken me up on my suggestion of “Arschschmerz” (ass + pain)? Would not shouting at someone, You are an ass-pain, not be the ultimate in satisfyingly efficient insults to hurl? Germans like efficiency, right? (Actually, no, what they like is thoroughness… but that’s a whole other rant.) Also I am always wondering why they say, “hau rein,” (dig in, more or less) when food finally arrives at the table instead of “cau rein” (chew in), which is literally what they are inviting you to do.
But you have to be careful with this game. I am always yapping on to my neighbors how much my chickens LOVE the green tops of carrots (it’s like a great white shark feeding frenzy when you throw in a bunch). To me the most logical way to express the green tops of carrots in German is to say “
REDACTED” (carrot + heads). But it turns out that this compound word is not far off the N-word in English. Okay, the target is different–historically it refers to North Africans and now to Muslim people in general–but the feel is the same. (Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not that Muslims are thought to look like carrot heads, it’s that the word for carrot sounds like the word for Moor, which is apparently also not a nice word in English, although it pops up in dictionaries with neutral definitions like this: a member of the group of Muslim people from North Africa who ruled Spain from 711 to 1492.)
Mohrrübenkraut (carrot + tuber + herb), Mohrrübenkraut, Mohrrübenkraut. I’ve really got to get used to saying that instead. That’s a correct German compound word for carrot greens. Because if I don’t get the hang of it, someday I’ll find myself gushing about my chickens to some stranger, only to drive them into a sudden cold quease, after which they slap me for having said something horrible and foul. Or worse, I’ll make someone feel really bad.
ps- Contrary to popular belief, it is not always possible to create a compound German word. While double checking on the handy dandy foreign language dictionary website Leo.org that Kraut can indeed be translated as “herb” (although going in I was 99.999% sure), I learned that the English phrase Kraut-bashing (which, if you know any Brits, you know is a popular British pastime) has to be translated into three whole entirely separate German words–“Schlechtmachen der Deutschen” (belittling the Germans)–although, okay, okay, you got me on this one–“Schlechtmachen” (bad + to make) is a compound word… and it’s even a compound word that I would graciously allow to be counted as a word in addition to bad (adj) and to make (v) if I were the person in charge of counting up all the different possible words in all the different possible languages.