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My university German professor claimed (in 1989) that the original full name in German for a tank (of the armored vehicle sort) had been

Schützengrabenvernichtungspanzerkraftwagen.

This seems possible, but unlikely. Web searches suggest that it is probably not legitimate, but I have not found anything conclusive.

In this old Wikipedia Reference Desk discussion someone claims to have seen it in print, but provides no citation or provenance. I remain doubtful. Other web pages suggest –kampf​wagen; the name panzerkampfwagen does seem to be attested, but what about the longer form? (And my professor said kraft, not kampf.) Schützengraben itself is of course well-attested. Google Book Search finds only one example, not actually a book, but a web forum discussion (in German) of extremely long words.

Was either of these very long words ever (with kraft or kampf) used seriously? Or is this, like similarly-long words in English, used mainly as a facetious example of an absurdly long word? If the latter, is it actually known in German, or is it used principally by English speakers as a facetious example of an absurdly-long German compound word?

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These overly long words happen in bureaucratic German. And bureaucracy may happen everywhere in Germany: legislation (law names, example in the answers), management (position names, example in the answers), military, …. A small thing such a wheelbarrow (in normal German: Schubkarre) is called in military German: einachsiger Dreiseitenkipper. So, I wouldn't be surprised, if the actual buraeucratic term for tank was once Schützengrabenvernichtungspanzerkraftwagen. But these terms don't survive in main stream German, where only the short version Panzer survived. –  Toscho May 30 at 9:35
    
I would claim this word isn't actually hard to parse for a native speaker :) –  jona May 30 at 11:19

3 Answers 3

The first german tanks (according to the A7V article in Wikipedia) were called "Sturmpanzerwagen A7V" (A7V was the Department in the War Ministry, which developed this tank (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/A7V).

Maybe he mixed this up with the "A7V Schützengrabenbagger" ([maybe shielded] excavator for trenches), which is mentioned in the A7V Wikipedia article too.

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I agree with your initial assessment, i.e. "unlikely".

Was either of these very long words ever (with kraft or kampf) used seriously?

I have never heard it, but that doesn't signify much.

If the latter, is it actually known in German ...

As you know, German has the ability to (almost arbitrarily) string words together to create new words. Even if a native speaker comes across it for the first time he'll be able to understand it. It's the same in English, really, although you'll have to use multiple words. Let's take the the old classic

Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän (Captain for the Danube Steamship Company)

You could add another word or two, creating a new one, if you will; native speakers would still understand it:

Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwenpension (Pension paid to widows of captains for the Danube Steamship Company)

Lather, rinse, repeat.

or is it used principally by English speakers as a facetious example of an absurdly-long German compound word?

Quite possibly. There are long words in German (Im thinking of, say, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungs-aufgabenübertragungsgesetz = law concerning the delegation of certain monitoring tasks in connection with beef labeling. Even though it's no longer on the books, this was a real act of parliament. Not making this up.) some of which are in regular use, but sadly Schützengrabenvernichtungspanzerkraftwagen is probably not one of them.

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https://www.google.ie/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=panzer+etymology&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=4pqIU_ycFsas0QXUk4DoCw

https://www.google.ie/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=panzer+etymology&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=4pqIU_ycFsas0QXUk4DoCw#q=Sch%C3%BCtzengrabenvernichtungspanzerkraftwagen+etymology&rls=en

I have never seen or heard this long word before and it seems silly. Just because we can produce long words does not mean germans do it as a sport in order to compete for creating and speaking the longest possible words.

The standard use case is use two words and make a new one like Panzer + Wagen --> Panzerwagen or Schütze + Graben = Schützengraben. But Schützengrabenvernichtungspanzerwagen is no longer a compound word it is almost a sentence.

Der Panzweragen wird benutzt zum vernichten von Schützengraben. Even that is not really true. You don't destroy the Schützengraben you just roll over it and get on with your business.

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