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In German, different words can combine to form longer, more descriptive compound words. Are there any German compound words that have an ambiguous meaning?

A possibility I've thought of:

If "__" is a word (e.g. "Braut"), "sch__" is a word (e.g. "Schaufel"), and "ch__" is one as well (in this case "Chaufel"), __sch__(Brautschaufel) could be interpreted as "(__s)ch__" ((Brauts)chaufel) or "__(sch__)" (Braut(schaufel)).

I couldn't come up with any examples of this kind of word in German, though.

Any help is appreciated :)

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Urinsekt

It's a shorter compound word and means prehistoric (Ur) insect (insekt). A German name for Apterygota.

However, Urin means urine and Sekt sparkling wine, so you could interpret it either

  1. Ur-insekt (correct)
  2. Urin-sekt (not so tasty)

And it even works if it's in plural

Urinsekten

since Sekten means cults or sects.


There are actually quite a lot such words (they are homographs) and I will list some more from Heinz Josef Weber's Homographen-Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (1996, google books, pp. 16-17):

  • Kurtage (broker's fee) / Kur-tage (days at a health resort)
  • Glieder-satz (compound sentence) / Glied-ersatz (limb replacement)
  • Stau-becken (reservoir, artificial lake) / Staub-ecken (dust corner)
  • Wach-stube (guardroom) / Wachs-tube (collapsible tube containing wax)
| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    "Not so tasty"[1] citation needed – infinitezero Aug 1 '19 at 16:00
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    A good reason why Maklerkurtage is so rarely used that Google will ask you: Did you mean "Maklercourtage"? The non-Germanized spelling is predominant. – Frank from Frankfurt Aug 1 '19 at 18:25
  • 2
    Blumentopferde and Klappfensterchen need to be added :-P ... – πάντα ῥεῖ Aug 1 '19 at 19:10

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