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.

How Coronavirus and 31 Other Infectious Diseases and Viruses Got Their Names

Rotavirus—from the Latin rota, for "wheel"—is named for the wheel-like appearance of its particles.
Rotavirus—from the Latin rota, for "wheel"—is named for the wheel-like appearance of its particles.
Dr_Microbe/iStock via Getty Images

As you may already know, the corona in coronavirus has no relation to a certain refreshing beer often served with a slice of lime. Corōna means “crown” in Latin—and Spanish and Italian, too—and virologists chose it in 1968 to describe the group of viruses characterized by crown-like spikes that protrude from their surfaces.

So how do other viruses and diseases get their names? Based on the infographic below, created by Adam Aleksic for his website, The Etymology Nerd, there isn’t just one way. Some, like the coronavirus, are named for how they look under a microscope. The rota in rotavirus, for example, which means “wheel” in Latin, reflects the virus’s wheel-like appearance when viewed beneath an electron microscope.

Others are named after the locations where they were discovered or studied. In 1947, scientists named a newly identified mosquito-borne virus after Uganda’s Zika Forest. In 1977, Yale researchers investigating a string of pediatric arthritis cases in the town of Lyme, Connecticut, started referring to the illness as “Lyme arthritis.” Later, the name was modified to “Lyme disease” when scientists realized patients were exhibiting other symptoms, too.

Still others are characterized by the symptoms they cause. People with tetanus—from the Greek tetanos, for “tension”—usually experience muscle stiffness, and the skin of yellow fever sufferers often takes on a yellow tint due to jaundice.

Find out the origins of malaria, measles, and more below. And follow The Etymology Nerd on Instagram for more fascinating etymological explanations.

etymology nerd infectious disease names infographic
Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of Latin in this infographic.

What Makes a Hotel Breakfast 'Continental'?

Hotels often offer a complimentary pastry and fruit breakfast.
Hotels often offer a complimentary pastry and fruit breakfast.
tashka2000/iStock via Getty Images

The continental breakfast, which is typically made up of pastries, fruit, and coffee, is often advertised by hotels as a free perk for guests. But why is it called continental, and why don’t patrons get some eggs and bacon along with it?

The term dates back to 19th century Britain, where residents referred to mainland Europe as “the continent.” Breakfast in this region was usually something light, whereas an English or American breakfast incorporated meat, beans, and other “heavy” menu options.

American hotels that wanted to appeal to European travelers began advertising “continental breakfasts” as a kind of flashing neon sign to indicate guests wouldn’t be limited to American breakfast fare that they found unappealing. The strategy was ideal for hotels, which saved money by offering some muffins, fruit, and coffee and calling it a day.

That affordability as well as convenience—pastries and fruit are shelf-stable, requiring no heat or refrigeration to maintain food safety—is a big reason continental breakfasts have endured. It’s also a carryover from the hybrid model of hotel pricing, where American hotels typically folded the cost of meals into one bill and European hotels billed for food separately. By offering a continental breakfast, guests got the best of both worlds. And while Americans were initially aghast at the lack of sausages and pancakes on offer, they’ve since come around to the appeal of a muffin and some orange juice to get their travel day started.

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