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Image to give context

I know the word Pechsträhne (streak of bad luck) or maybe even Pechvogel (unlucky person) would fit the case, or even Schwein gehabt! if he survives (or Schadenfreude for what some observers may feel)

Then one German speaker told me the following word: Clownenschadenmitbananaundsafeleiderkaputt. Is this a valid word that can be used?

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    I wonder ... can someone be "clownesk" who is actually a clown. – mtwde Mar 2 at 9:52
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    Never heard that word, but of course you can use it. Sounds a bit odd, though, and looks like it has been coined by a non-German speaker: it should not be "banana", and, frankly, it doesn't really make sense. – Oliver Mason Mar 2 at 9:54
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    I just got the joke --- it is Berufskrankheit --- the clown just can't miss the banana peel. Also french "deformation professionelle" can be used, but hard to write. – rastafile Mar 3 at 7:36
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    I see. I just wanted to know whether the word was occuring on the next page of the MAD magazine and was attributed to a German bystander. – Paul Frost Mar 3 at 11:09
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    There’s also Tragikomik a join of „Tragik“ (tragedy) and „Komik“ (humor). – Holger Mar 4 at 7:31

10 Answers 10

64

German compound nouns are often made fun of because of their length. To nonspeakers, they look monstrous and incomprehensible. But in reality, they are quite simple.

There's always at least two parts, with the first part determining the second and the second part being a noun.

Verkehrsunfall: accident in traffic
Nasenspray: spray for nose
Klimaleugner: denier of climate (i.e. climate change)

Then there's recursion: A compound may be used as the first part of another compound.

Verkehrsunfallstatistik: statistic about accidents in traffic
Nasenspraysucht: addiction to spray for nose
Klimaleugnerthese: proposition by denier of climate

These compounds may be well-established, such as Verkehrsunfallstatistik, they may be occasional, such as Nasenspraysucht, or they can be created ad hoc, such as Klimaleugnerthese.

As the literal translations indicate, these compounds are quite easily understood if read from right to left. However, when reading quickly, proper segmentation (at least for long or rare compounds) is sometimes a problem even for native speakers, which is why spellings with a hyphen, such as Nasenspray-Sucht, are becoming more popular.

The problem with

clownenschadenmitbananaundsafeleiderkaputt

is that it does not follow the rules for compound nouns: There's a prepositional phrase (mit Banane), a conjunction (und), an adverb (leider) and an adjective (kaputt) all mushed together, without any nouns that could serve as second part.

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    Rightfully the correct answer. – a_donda Mar 2 at 10:32
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    Is there a reason why you didn't write traffic accident, nose spray or climate (change) deniers? Those would be the correct translations and even more so, show that the only difference to English is, that we drop the whitespace between words. – infinitezero Mar 2 at 23:12
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    @infinitezero and add way too many commas to sentences. ;) – Eric Duminil Mar 3 at 6:10
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    @infinitezero Reading the compounds from right to left puts the determined part before the determining part (Nasenspray is a type of spray, Nasenspraysucht is a type of addiction), which is easier to understand. I don't think climate denier proposition is good English, or more generally that the only difference between English and German compounds is white space. English uses compounds less and is more hesitant of forming new compounds. Compare: towel, tissue, scarf, sheet, dusterHandtuch, Taschentuch, Halstuch, Betttuch, Staubtuch. – David Vogt Mar 3 at 8:12
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    A nice addition would be that it's not really possible to combine all the facts happening here because of the direction recursion works: You can say "Bananenunfall", which would mean an accident somehow related to bananas, you can say "Clownunfall" for an accident somehow related to clowns, but a "Banananclownunfall" would be interpreted as an accident somehow related to a "banana clown". Trying to add banana and safe - "Bananensafeclownunfall" - would make me think "an accident; involving a clown; who in some manner or form works with banana safes (whatever that might be)". – R. Schmitz Mar 3 at 9:47
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Most commonly this is referred to as

Tresorsturzopferclownausrutschbananenvorfall

Which translate to incident related to a banana on which the clown, that is victim of a falling safe, is slipping

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    aaah, the good old Tresorsturzopferclownausrutschbananenvorfall. Classic German comedy ^^. – mtwde Mar 2 at 18:54
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    This is more of an insurance term – Helena Mar 2 at 19:20
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    Most German insurance policies explicitly exclude this. – fishinear Mar 2 at 19:33
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    Wenn, dann ...bananenausrutschvorfall, besser: ...bananenschalenausrutschvorfall oder vielleicht Doppelpech. – user unknown Mar 3 at 1:25
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    This is not correct German. It could probably be fixed, in contrast to the one in the question, but it's definitely not correct as is. – Nobody Mar 4 at 13:42
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Then one German speaker told the following word clownenschadenmitbananaundsafeleiderkaputt.

Apart from the fact that this is not a German word, it is nonsense. It still would be nonsense if the typos were corrected. Just forget it.

The cartoon is nothing more than a satiric side-blow on the German language and the German characteristic of creating new words for anything (e.g. see the famous Rinderkennzeichnungs- und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz).

So, no there is really NO existing German word for that specific situation, and I doubt we can create one that would make sense for German ears.
The only word I have in mind is "Doppelpech". It means that someone has "doppeltes Pech", i.e. someone experiences two bad things at the same time.
However, you won't find it in official dictionaries and it's not used very often.

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I suspect that this person either was not a German speaker or was poking fun at people who think that German compound nouns are funny (or both). While this is the subject of the cartoon, it is only funny because it suggests something impossible. Clownschadenmitbananeundsafeleiderkaputt is a pseudo-sentence without whitespace and is not a word by any stretch. It falls short of being funny. And there is of course no German word that describes all the unrelated things you see in the cartoon, and one cannot be constructed.

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  • +1 for the 1st part, -0.4 for the 2nd: there is such a word; it can be found in other answers. – glglgl Mar 3 at 11:14
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    @glglgl: The form Clownschadenmitbananeundsafeleiderkaputt is morphologically impossible to exist as a compound in German. Like English compounds, German compounds have head elements, and like in English, head elements usually occur to the right. Like English, German rarely has phrasal elements in compounds, but safeleiderkaputt is a verbless sentence. Coordination is possible in compounds, like in English, but it's ungrammatical without spaces. – Schmuddi Mar 4 at 16:43
  • This question reminds me of something that circulated at IBM when I worked there many years ago. There was a small, informal mailing list for Germanophiles and I subscribed to it. I believe most of the members were native German speakers. One member circulated an email that introduced the concept of "Gerlish" which attempted to make German-ish words that were (false and humourous) translations of common English words. Two that I remember were: dog = barkenpantenschniffer and golf = hitundhuntenspiel. – Henry Mar 5 at 2:56
  • @Schmuddi Of course, but And there is of course no German word that describes all the unrelated things you see in the cartoon, and one cannot be constructed. is wrong, as "Tresorsturzopferclownausrutschbananenvorfall" is such a word. – glglgl Mar 5 at 6:12
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"Pechsträhne" is ok, but usually used in connection with an extended period of bad luck, "dumm gelaufen" (~shit happens) could be used for the situation, given the satirical context, which, by the way, is rather banal.

"Clownenschadenmitbananaundsafeleiderkaputt" you mention is not even remotely a German expression, even the components are wrong. "Schaden" is used for damaged things, not for a person, banana is English, in German it's a "Banane", "kaputt" as well is used for things and not for persons. And German language, while it does concatenate e.g. two nouns or a verb and a noun, does not build such contraptions.

I have heard of an English myth saying that Germans concatenate words to never ending monsters, and "Mad" is a satirical magazine. Might it be that the word was deliberately built to serve exactly that myth :-) ?

How about "Eine Verkettung unglücklicher Umstände" (a concatenation of unfortunate circumstances) to describe the Situation ? Wouldn't be in the artist's sense, but proper German.

Edit: Since this causes so much grief, rage and angst i add that in German officialese and insurance terms "Schaden" is used for persons as well. But in every day use and anyway in other contexts including medical we would of course describe a person as being "verletzt" (wounded), not "beschädigt" (damaged). Thanks @Jan and @Patrick Schlüter.

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    Banal? Did you mean bananal? – March Ho Mar 2 at 19:19
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    Bei der nächsten Bahnverspätung wegen Personenschadens werde ich an dich und die Aussage, Schaden sei nur für Gegenstände, denken. – Jan Mar 3 at 5:42
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    Andererseits möchte ich aufbauend auf deinem letzten Satz die Unglücksumstandsverkettung als beschreibendes Wort vorschlagen ;) – Jan Mar 3 at 5:44
  • @Jan warum so sarkastisch und gestelzt ? Der Amts-Jargon wird selbst von uns Germanen oft verspottet. Der ändert sich ja auch mit jeder Gesetzgebungsperiode ;-) (die Spanier, meine Wahlheimat, können das verschleiern von Umstaänden in der Amtssprache noch viel besser) – a_donda Mar 3 at 8:06
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    @a_donda Welcher von meinen beiden Kommentaren? ;) Wahrscheinlich ist aber die Antwort: Weil mir danach war. – Jan Mar 3 at 9:09
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It is a:

Clown-rutscht-auf-banane-aus-und-wird-nur-dehalb-vom-safe-getroffen-Situation

Like Win-win-Situation or Stop-and-go-Verkehr. Duden also has "Stop-and-Go-Verkehr", with CamelCase.

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a_donda is certainly right: MAD is a satirical magazine and the scene is mocking the German habit of concatenating words.

However, the situation is an illustration of the saying "Ein Unglück kommt selten allein" ("It never rains but it pours"). In that sense there exists an adequate German phrase although it is not a single word.

And one thing is clear if there is a banana peel on the street: The clown unavoidably slips on it. Loose translation to German:

Sicher [=safe] rutscht der Clown auf der Bananenschale aus.

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As you already said there is the word Pechvogel, an expression for a person who is always unlucky.

So ... why not call him a

Pechclown - a clown who is always unlucky

It is not a common word, but it follows the rules.


Despite from that I think the word

Schadenfreude

fits very well.

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  • Pechclown wäre die Bezeichnung der Person, der das Ereignis widerfährt, Schadenfreude die emotionale Regung eines Betrachters. Was die Wortbildung mit "kaputt" auch immer bezeichnen soll, weder ist es die Person, noch die Gemütsregung. Ebensogut könntest Du "Straßenszene" oder "erschrocken" vorschlagen. – user unknown Mar 3 at 1:35
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You can use hyphens to put together the nouns clown(Clown), banana(Banane), safe(Tresor) and accident(Unfall): "Clown-Bananen-Tresor-Unfall". Pretty much describes the whole situation imo.

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Witnessing this situation, I would think:

Das ist ja mal ein echtes Klischee! - Which literally translates to cliché. ("wow, that is an actual cliché!")

One often adds "lebend" to Klischee (a living cliché), but in this situation it is obviously not appropriate. Although it might add another level of irony ...

To back my usage up, here is an article in the magazine "Brigitte" with the title "Ich bin ein lebendes Klischee" (which I haven't read, though) :)

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