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German and its beloved Silbenwörter Posted by on Nov 3, 2016 in Culture, Grammar, Language, vocabulary

We all like abbreviating things. From texting shortcuts to internet abbreviations, from names to government departments. There are differences in how we abbreviate, though. We Germans have a pretty interesting take on it!

Germans like abbreviating stuff. Understandable, as German words can become really long sometimes. Especially for words that are used a lot in everyday speech – an abbreviation makes speaking very ökonomisch (efficient).

In Germany, abbreviations are used differently than in English. In English, words or a group of words are abbreviated with their first letter most of the time. For example: Department of Defense – DoDimo – in my opinion. There are also abbreviations like UFO or NASA, where the abbreviation is pronounced as a word – that is a Kurzwort (literally “short word” – acronyms).

Kurzwörter (acronyms)

Kurzwörter are words that are written in an abbreviated form and are also pronounced as such. UFO will never be spoken as Unidentified Flying Object, whereas DoD will most likely be spoken as Department of Defense. In Germany, we have those too: Personenkraftwagen becomes PKW, and Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands becomes CDU, for example. There are many varieties of Kurzwörter, but I will focus on a particular kind of abbreviation that is barely used in English, but quite widespread in German: Silbenkurzwörter (syllabic abbreviations).

Silbenkurzwörter (syllabic abbreviations)

Silbenkurzwörter are Kürzwörter that abbreviate by taking the initial syllables of different words or word group and creating a new word that way.

For example: Interpol – International Police.

In German, there are many of these! Here a little list:

  • Azubi – Auszubildende(r) (apprentice)
  • Kripo – Kriminalpolizei (The “criminal police”, the criminal investigation agency of the German police)
  • Kita – Kindertagesstätte (Day Care in Germany)
  • Schiri – Schiedsrichter (referee)
  • Schuko – Schutzkontakt (registered trademark for a system of electric plugs used in Europe, of which the Kurzwort is used very widely in Germany)
  • Vokuhila – Vorne kurz, hinten lang (the German mullet, that Constanze has written about before. Worth checking out!)

And many names for brands etc. are in fact Silbenkurzwörter:

  • Adidas – Adi Dassler (Name of the founder of the shoe company. His first name is actually Adolf, but Adi was his nickname)
  • Aldi – Albrecht Diskont (Family name of the founders of the discounter supermarket chain together with the old German word for discounter)
  • KiKa – KinderKanal (Children’s Channel – public German TV channel for children)
  • Haribo  Hans Riegel Bonn (Hans Riegel was the founder of the candy company, and he founded the company in the city of Bonn)

Why are these kinds of abbreviations so popular in Germany? I think it has all to do with pronunciation. Vowels just make it all a lot easier to pronounce, and makes the abbreviation much more a word. And guess what: UFO is not pronounced as U.F.O. in German, but as:

Do you know more such Silbenkurzwörter? Does your language use them a lot? Let me know in the comments!

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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


Comments:

  1. Scott Welker:

    Very interesting, thanks! Another favorite of mine from history is “Gestapo” (Geheime Staatspolizei = secret state police). Like many of your examples, this Silbenkurzwört took on a meaning of its own, and the whole world came to know it. Not as nice as Haribo though!

    There is an institution in the USA that makes acronyms out of syllables instead of letters – The Navy. One example is COMCRUDESPAC, which stands for commander, cruisers and destroyers, Pacific. They do most of their abbreviations that way. Why I do not know. Just to be different from the Army I suppose.

    Keep up the good work!

    Scott