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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. Google Book Search finds only one example, not actually a book, but a web forum discussion (in German) of extremely long words.

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.

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 '14 at 9:35
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    I would claim this word isn't actually hard to parse for a native speaker :) – jona May 30 '14 at 11:19
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    My high school teacher in the mid-1960s taught us the word Schützengrabenvernichtungautomobile. – user20337 Feb 13 '16 at 2:18
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    @GlenStoll: This word would need a "Fugen-s" like "Schützengrabenvernichtungsautomobile" and would be the plural of "Schützengrabenvernichtungsautomobil". – Hulk Feb 13 '16 at 6:22
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    Google NGram zeigt keine Treffer, was stark gegen die Bürokratiethese spricht. Gegen eine Verbreitung als Verballhornung spricht das natürlich auch. Ich habe es nie gehört. – user unknown Feb 13 '16 at 11:26
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This may be a joke word. 1989 seems correct, but it may have been 1988. The writer Roy Bradbrook wrote commentaries for the magazine AIR International. He wrote about the aviation industry, current events, and tied them in with historical titbits. The pieces were accompanied by a cartoon that commented on some part of the text.

For instance, when writing about the Angolan fighter pilot that shot down the plane of the President of Botswana, he commented that:

What happened to the fighter pilot is not known...

This sentence was used to underline a cartoon of a fighter pilot writing on a blackboard, Bart Simpson-style:

I must not shoot the President of Botswana out of the sky...

In another article he wrote about some German aircraft at an exhibition(possibly the PAH-2), talked about the complicated German names, and mentioned how there was a move to purge French words, or French-inspired words, like Fenster (Fr. fenêtre), from the German language during WWI, and replacing them with “...words that built up like Meccano sets...”. This was then used by the cartoonist to underline a picture of a German soldier in Pickelhaube looking at a British Mark I tank coming across no-man’s land, and exclaiming:

Ein Tank?! Was für ein Dummkopf wort ist das für ein SchüzengrabenvernichtungsPanzerKraftWagen??"

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    This would be better if it included a reference. – Carsten S Feb 13 '16 at 14:12
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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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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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The word is used in "Eyewitness", the autobiography of Ernest Dunlop Swinton, the British Army officer who is believed to have decided on "tank" as a codename for the new armoured vehicles in 1915. The book was published in 1932. He says in a footnote that the German equivalent of "tank" was Schützengrabenvernichtungspanzerkampfwagen. It is not clear whether he actually believed it or whether he was mocking the German language.

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    Nice find! It would be even better if you could give the precise quote with source (edition, page number...). – Matthias May 5 '17 at 22:37
  • I can't find anything like this in the Pickle Partners ebook edition of Swinton's memoirs. – MJD Feb 15 '19 at 12:43
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In the 1970s I acquired a book which was titled "German Armoured Fighting Vehicles of World War 1". That book stated that the original German word for tank was schutzengrabenvernichtungpanzerkraftwagen (translated as trench annihilation assault vehicle). Unfortunately I no longer own the book, so I can't scan the page or provide the ISBN number. My understanding of the origin of the use of "tank" for an armoured fighting vehicle was that the first British tanks were transported on trains disguised as water tanks, and the name stuck.

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

https://www.google.ie/search?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 der Schützengräben. 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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