Mastering Dutch Words That are Longer than Your Arm

Mastering Dutch Words That are Longer than Your Arm (Photo: Amanda van Mullingen)

Learning Dutch can be quite daunting at the best of times, but throw the length of some words in to the mix and it can be downright terrifying.

Some Dutch words are so long they look like they have been created purposefully to confuse the average expat. In fact, I’m convinced that some Dutch words are so long they probably confuse the average Dutch person too.

Take arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering as a first example. It has 33 letters and it means unemployment insurance.

Then we have medewerkerstevredenheidsonderzoek, which also comprises 33 letters and means employee satisfaction survey.

In 2007, Nederland 1 TV game show, Lingo asked viewers to send in long words in a quest to find the longest Dutch word. The winning word was 60 letters long: kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamhedencomitéleden. In case you are wondering, in English, this translates as a member on the committee for the preparation of the children’s carnival procession.

However, it was never granted official status as the longest Dutch word. For a word to be official, it needs to be in common use on TV, radio and in the national press. It also cannot be a word made up of other words that already have a meaning.

And there is a valid reason for this last rule. In theory, the longest Dutch word could go on forever as the Dutch language allows the endless stringing of words together to create new ones.

To take one of the examples above – arbeid (work), ongeschiktheid (unfit) and verzekering (insurance). All three words exist independently but put them all together and what do you get? Arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering.

So, what is the longest Dutch word? I hear you cry. Well, Van Dale lists meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis as the longest word. It’s 35 letters to describe multiple personality syndrome. However, there is some discussion in the linguistics world as to whether this is really all one word. But that’s a topic for another day. Or perhaps never.

To close, so you can truly understand how silly it can get, I also found another long word. I had to check with my Dutch husband to make sure someone wasn’t pulling my leg, but he assured me this could, in theory, be used:

Appelbanaanperenaardbeienframbozengrapefuitdruivenbramensinaasappelgranaatappelmandarijncitroenroomgebakje. It’s a tart with apple, banana, pear, strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit, grape, blackberry, orange, pomegranate, mandarin, lemon and cream. I do believe though that most sane people would just say ‘fruit tart’ instead. And no, I’m not even going to bother counting how many letters there are……

 

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Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen is a British expat who has made the Netherlands her home. She has three Dutch sons who are tinged with Britishness, and a pure bred Dutch husband. She is also a published author, freelance writer and blogger. You can read her blog at Expat Life with a Double Buggy where she scribbles about her expat way of loving, living and parenting. You can catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
Amanda van Mulligen

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