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When learning German, one often quickly finds out the meaning of the word langweilig (boring). Later, I read the word kurzweilig (entertaining). Thinking about the prefix lang and kurz, plus the meaning of Weile (while), I have a basic idea about the time spent in a certain activity. If it takes long -> boring; short -> cool. Does it make sense?

The most interesting thing though is that, whereas the verb langweilen (to bore) exists, kurzweilen does not; whereas the substantive Langweiler (bore) exists, Kurzweiler does not; whereas the noun Kurzweil (pastime, amusement) exists, Langweil does not. What is the origin of this difference between kurzweil- and langweil-?

  • It's hard to tell from your posting what exactly you want to know. Is your question about contemporary compositions with langweil- and kurzweil-, about their historical origins, or the perceived "gaps" in German vocabulary which does not include all possible word formations with langweil- and kurzweil-? – ParaDice Apr 20 '17 at 10:31
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    "Langweil" exists very well, but with other spelling: The contrary of "Kurzweil" is "Langeweile". – IQV Apr 20 '17 at 10:43
  • Yes, "Langeweile" exists, but "Langweil" (as the exact opposite of "Kurzweil") can indeed be seen as missing, or not in documented use. – Christian Geiselmann Apr 20 '17 at 11:04
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All the words technically do exist, even though you won't find them in bilingual dictionaries as well as in many monolingual dictionaries.

If you take a look at a more historic dictionary, however, you realise that all the words at least used to exist.

For example,

KURZWEILEN , kurzweil treiben u. ä., ein seit dem 18. jahrh. abgekommenes schönes wort (langweilen gibts noch)

You can find Kurzweiler in the dictionary, too.

Langweil is spelled with an e at the end, but it's indeed the opposite to Kurzweil. According to Grimm'sche Wörterbuch, Langweil without an e exists since the 16th century, though.

allerdings ist lángweil doch auch entwickelt, in oberd. mundarten oder denen überhaupt, die das -e gern abstoszen

On the other hand, you might also find some texts with Kurzweile — with an e at the end, that is.
And if you read on in Grimm'sche Wörterbuch, you also learn that Langweil(e) used to be two words, while Kurzweil(e) has always been one word. Well, except that there are a few occurrences where it was split up into two words. But that's another story.

And on another side note, langwierig and kurzwierig (or Langwierigkeit and Kurzwierigkeit, respectively) is also a word pair where only one is common in contemporary German.

So, how come some words are not used any more but others are? Well, that's the secret of languages evolving over time. Or just because there's no need for certain words.

  • Oh, very well. I'll keep this dictionary in mind. Thanks! – Belzebu Apr 20 '17 at 12:27
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I am not sure if questions like "Why is there a word for x, but no word for y" make too much sense.

And, by the way, who sais that the word "Langweil" does not exist? It may have not been included into printed dictionaries so far, but perhaps some people use it in their oral everyday communication without us knowing?

But, okay, as you look for a rationale why "Kurzweil" exists, but "Langweil" is under suspicion of nonexistence, here is my suggestion:

"Kurzweil" denotes a concrete thing: some activity you do which you find entertaining so that time passes quicker than ordinarily. So this is a specific activity or event - an add-on to your ordinary way of life.

"Langweil" however - if existing - would possibly denote the lack of such a special activity. It seems, the community using German for communciation so far has not felt urgent need to coin a word for this.

I find it unsurprising that there is a word for a thing, but no word for a non-thing. There is a word for the ruler on my desk ("ruler"), but there is no word for a missing ruler.

Or, you could argue that "Langweil" would denote an activity that intentionally is so boring that time passes slower. Again it seems the German speaking community has not felt the need for such a word so far, as nobody is pursuing such an activity. (Some strange sort of monks in Asia could be imagined doing such a thing...)

But of course you can try and start using this word, and perhaps your friends will find it useful and start using it as well. And eventually you will find it printed in a dictionary.

  • Thanks, and I see your point. But from the point of view that lang and kurz are completely opposite, I would also expect to find exact matches. And indeed there are, but not a complete in the case of langweilig. Your example of "ruler" and a "missing ruler".. well.. that does not add much. – Belzebu Apr 20 '17 at 12:26

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