# Abbreviating the word “Zeichen”

I am translating an Android application to German.

The app is going to show a small text document and some info, included a character counter.

I need to abbreviate the word Zeichen in a similar fashion to the English abbreviation chars. I also need the word to take up as little space as possible - otherwise, it might break my UI.

Is there a way to abbreviate this word correctly?

• You will run into the same problem with other languages. The reasonable solution would be to adapt your UI to allow longer strings. – Gerald Schneider Nov 28 '18 at 14:12
• There is no "correct" way to shorten "Zeichen". In German it is not recognized as a long word to be shortened. Depending on the context maybe you can use an icon (small image), especially if you mean "Sonderzeichen" (special character). Many UIs do so. – Ingo Bochmann Nov 28 '18 at 14:23
• Two important things are missing to your question: 1) How much is "as little space as possible?" 2) In what context is it put in you UI? To get good answers consider an edit to your question. Thank you. – Takkat Nov 28 '18 at 15:00
• The use of characters to mean "length of a text" does not really correspond to a German writing "123 Zeichen". If you do count characters in a Text, e.g. in a newsroom environment, the usual technical expression is "123 Anschläge". – Kilian Foth Nov 29 '18 at 9:27
• @Salvioner: please do give us an example text where you would use this abbreviation. The accepted answer may not be quite what you are looking for. – Takkat Nov 29 '18 at 11:10

The typical way German words are abbreviated is leaving out all vowels that aren't needed for distinction in that context.

Zeichen → Zchn.

(Zchn. may be read as Zechen (coal mines) on a map, though.)

If you need it even shorter

Zn.

and even

Z.

are okay as long the context makes it clear.

• Looks not really like German abbreviations are typically constructed as abjads. At least my Uffz said so after he visited the AA to inquire. – LangLangC Nov 29 '18 at 11:39
• D Aküfi d BW i schn ws bsndrs. – Janka Nov 29 '18 at 13:58
• Yes, but I only learned that after my BAFöG ran out and I had to study GewO to get my GmbH & Co going, not to mention other examples typical for juristischen gedankensalat. It was all Greek to me like "Bhf aussteigen." – LangLangC Nov 29 '18 at 14:07
• @LangLangC: In my opinion, the style/conventions used for abbreviations used in "Behördendeutsch" (Polizei, Bundeswehr, Gesetzgebung usw.) is rather different from that used in written everyday German. Hence, it is not too helpful to look at one when trying to find advice on the other. – O. R. Mapper Nov 29 '18 at 17:12
• This should be the accepted answer since it is the one that actually answers OPs question – Snowfire Nov 30 '18 at 13:00

The database on Woxikon suggests:

Z
Z.
Zn.
Zchn.

However, without further context, it might be difficult for your users to recognise the first three, since there are other meanings for them as well. According to the same source, Z or Z. can also refer to Ziffer, Zeile, Zitat for example, whereas Zn or Zn. can be Zunahme, Zink, Zeitnahme for example.

Hence, I would suggest using Zchn. (maybe without the period to save a character) - it skips the vocals, but I'd say most native speakers would recognise it. There is only one other meaning mentioned: Zeichnen - and I guess the context of your app allows to distinguish between the two meanings.

• Careful, for I would read 'Zchn.' as 'Zeichner'. The context should have to be very clear if you are going to use that. – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 28 '18 at 15:12
• As a native German I would recognize none of these suggestions as "Zeichen". – Gerald Schneider Nov 28 '18 at 15:43
• @GeraldSchneider Interesting. What would you think Zchn means (if you had to guess)? – Arsak Nov 28 '18 at 15:47
• @Marzipanherz I'd think the designer was overly smart. I'd go for chars. – DonQuiKong Nov 28 '18 at 16:10
• @DonQuiKong Personally, I wouldn't expect non-programmers do decipher chars correctly, since I haven't seen it in other contexts. – Arsak Nov 28 '18 at 16:16

I suggest Länge, if this would be unambiguous to your users.

There is no abbreviation that would be immediately recognizable even for a native speaker.

"chars" being 5 characters long already, I think you need to think about your localization if 7 characters for "Zeichen" is too long for your UI. German is rather short. Others will be even longer.

That said, maybe you can pick a different word altogether? If it's supposed to be characters, in German as in English you could pick

Text

• This. I'm a native speaker and none of the answers given so far would be understandable to me without explanation. – Tom Nov 29 '18 at 6:26
• @Tom … and you would understand that “Text” means “Anzahl Zeichen”? – Holger Nov 29 '18 at 7:59
• Not really, no. But picking a different word is the right approach, and re-thinking the whole thing (because you will encounter longer words in other languages many times) is the right approach as well. – Tom Nov 29 '18 at 8:06

I can imagine two possibilities:

First in the German "Straßenverkehrsordnung" the various traffic signs are abbreviated only with a "Z." e. g. "Z 2012.

The second possibility is omitting the vowels, so it would be

Zchn.

This is what I would prefer and recommend as it is most easily recognizable to the original meaning. I hope this variant fits your UI.

Also there are several websites which give as explanation for this abbreviation the correct meaning, for example Woxikon or abkürzung.info.

All the difficulties present here point to two solutions:

1. Think outside the box: put you problem into one. Use a graphical representation, One pictue says more than a thousand words. You might choose a little box with "abc" or other legal characters in it. Then perhaps use a popup/tooltip like explanation for it, should that be not self-explanatory enough. Or just squish the characters by using another narrower font cut? All choices will be less good than the next, proper fix.

2. Even the limitations coming from the original development language might be reconsidered. "Characters" does not immediately convey that these are counted in the document. The editor of choice for me does not display any identifier at all! It just lists the numbers. Others, like LibreOffice spell the complete word out.
What is the better service for the user: using no identifier, using a cryptic abbrv, or using the proper word for it, short in any case presented so far?
In other words: fix the problem at the core. Fix the original design, not just the translation. It is probably better thought of as a problem not from or for the German language but one from design limitations.

@Gerald Schneider: You will run into the same problem with other languages. The reasonable solution would be to adapt your UI to allow longer strings.

Like other applications do routinely. A browser translates

File   Edit       View    Bookmarks   Tools
Ablage Bearbeiten Ansicht Lesezeichen Werkzeuge


If forced to just use the exact equivalent for this less than ideal idea:

chars
Zeich


But compare that again to using just the proper words:

characters
Zeichen


And suddenly the German version is shorter, and both are easier to read for the user. "Chars" might even give ordinary people (non-technical, non-geek, non-millenial…) trouble if they have to look it up. They might end up at Char (char, char) or Chars. Abbreviations are way to often a disservice for users.

Since a UI is just about conventions that have to be learned anyway: the shortest possible version was mentioned by Janka and Marzipanherz: "Z". If the app is so highly specialised and geared towards technical users, you can also drop that as well, just use the bare number, like my editor does. It is hardly possible to save more space. Just consider this UI label as "noise" and omit it.

• In what environment is File translated as Ablage rather than as Datei? I wouldn't understand that and assume some kind of a clipboard, or at best a repository-like system, is meant. – O. R. Mapper Nov 29 '18 at 17:18
• @O.R.Mapper I think of that as rather stupid as well, if only for menu-bar real estate. But Apple does this. As this is another convention to be learned, you will guess correctly what is meant by that if you recognise just the position (or open that menu). – LangLangC Nov 29 '18 at 17:25

When counting characters (or "chars") the proper term used in German is not Zeichen but

Anschläge

which counts also the blanks (whereas Zeichen is sometimes understood to count only visible signs). The word Anschlag/Anschläge is related to the old cultural technique of typing on typewriters. One hit on a key is called Anschlag, and this usually comes with a carriage move by one step. (Interesting exception: hitting a key for diacritics such as on à, á, â. Such diacritical keys do not cause the carriage to move.)

You may abbreviate Anschläge as

Anschl.

which will be broadly understood by native speakers, at least those with some acquaintance with cultural techniques of writing and publishing.

But of course it looks silly. Abbreviations that save you three letters of nine, and add a dot, so you end up with a net win of two, are just not justifiable.

Corner for experiments

By the way, as Anschläge bears the amibiguity of "do you mean hits on keys including those for diacritics, or do you mean carriage steps", a more precise term would actually be

Wagenvorschübe

but that's a word I never heard being used. It may have been used by typewriter engineers, but this is just what I suppose.

• I would use "Anschläge" exclusively when it's about characters typed by the user. If the app just "show[s] a small text document", I'd stumble over the odd choice of word and assumed the translator had translated by a dictionary without considering the context. At the same time; I'm quite sure that at latest since the widespread adoption of text messages (SMS), the idea that a blank counts as a "Zeichen" is commonly accepted. – O. R. Mapper Nov 29 '18 at 10:50
• It is extremely awkward to use this in a GUI. These examples don't work: Ihr Passwort muss mindestens 9 Anschläge lang sein. Ihre Nachricht ist um 17 Anschläge zu lang. – Takkat Nov 29 '18 at 11:04
• "Anschläge" counts key hits. You have 1 Anschlag for "a" but 2 Anschläge for "A" as you have to hit Shift also. So "Anschläge" has a different meaning than "Zeichen" and cannot be used to count characters. – Vive la déraison Nov 29 '18 at 13:32
• "Anschläge" is also a technical term, used in typesetting and journalism. Outside of these domains, text length is measured in "Zeichen". – user24582 Nov 29 '18 at 13:50
• Native speaker here. No german person would talk about characters as "Anschlaege" if he's not talking about typing itself (as in keyboard or more likely typewriter, i.e. the act of pressing keys). And the word has a way more common meaning, which is (terrorist) attack. Zeichen is the right word here. And if you actually use "Anschl.", most people would not guess that you mean "Anschlaege", as they do not expect this word at all. – allo Nov 29 '18 at 15:35