How long German words may help you protect your Euros…

December 17, 2011

Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

I recently stumbled across an article in the Irish Times that described in detail how to protect your money in the (not entirely improbable) case of a breakup of the Eurozone. Simply lend your Euros to the Federal Republic of Germany, so the thinking goes, a safer place should be hard to find. Of course your bank or broker can buy German bonds (or “bunds”) for you and you’re set, but there’s also the DIY-approach. And this is where the long, concatenated German words come into play.

We’ll start with this cute green guy named Günther Schild:

Günther is a tortoise or turtle, whichever you prefer. The German word for turtle is a good example for our antipathy towards creating new words when you can simply combine existing ones to achieve the same result (albeit by using more letters, conceded). With a little bit of imagination a turtle looks like a toad with a shield, so we simply combine the “Kröte” (toad) with “Schild” (shield) and voilà (pardon my French) the “Schildkröte” is born. Rhinoceros too complicated? Well, that’s a beast with a horn on the nose (“Nase”), “Nashorn” is much easier to spell for firstgraders (and the like;-). Hippo? A river-horse (“Flusspferd”). Warthog? A pig with warts (“Warzenschwein”). And so forth…

Now Günther’s surname makes some sense, doesn’t it? Günther is the mascot of an instituion thate manages the sale of German Government securities, the “Bundesfinanzagentur”. Let’s try to disassemble that word into its components:

Bundes – Federal
Finanz – Finance
Agentur – Agency

Hey, simple, it’s the Federal Finance Agency. Now that is the place people turn to if they want to lend the German Government some money without any kind of intermediary (like a broker) in between. The article mentioned above describes the process in detail, only the link the author provides seems to be broken, use this one to access the English language pages of the Finanzagentur.

A side note:
The TV ads with the likeable Dr. Günther Schild were so successful that the commercial banks protested, because they lost quite some business when people took money out of their bank accounts to buy the Governments then new Day-Bond (“Tagesanleihe”, made up of “Tag”/day and “Anleihe”/bond). So poor Günther is  less visible now that he was a few years ago, but I still like him and the message he delivers.

Heinrich’s collection of useless knowledge:
Could not resist to share with you that the Bundesfinanzagentur was formerly know as Bundeswertpapierverwaltung, another nice example of how words come into being. The “Bundes” part you already know, “Wertpapier” itself consists of “Wert” (value) and “Papier” (paper) literally a “paper of value” which normally refers to stocks or bonds. “Verwaltung” simply means administration. The federal bond administration – easy as pie if you know the rules.

More examples? Try Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänskajütentür or Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. Both valid German words… Enjoy!