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I'm aware that it's not used in German, and it was introduced as a joke by an American TV show (How I met your mother), possibly for the funny effect of how long German words could be. However would such a Wortbildung be correct German?

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  • Usually composite words in German consist of nouns only, wihtout adjectives. But I am pretty sure that every german would understand the word in question. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 11 at 15:27
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    I would say German is the very reason to play Scrabble. – infinitezero Jul 11 at 15:34
  • @πάνταῥεῖ I might misunderstand your comment - but German composite words can be formed using non-nouns as well. Think of Blaulicht or Kaltwelle, for example. – Arsak Jul 13 at 8:42
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    @Arsak That's why I wrote usually. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 13 at 8:45
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We're talking about nominal composition here. First of all: The phrase from the TV show is not correct. It should instead read:

Lebenslanger Schicksalsschatz

Lebenslang ('lifelong') is an adjective. Nominal compounds, on the other hand, are most frequently formed out of substantives added to a base substantive. Adjectives might be joined with the base substantive as well, but only by their root without any ending. Lebenslange, however, is an inflected form, that can not be merged into a compound.

In general, you may combine substantives quite freely by joining them; however, there are some rules regarding linking elements like the -s- between Schicksal and Schatz. In case of adjectives and verbs, oftentimes the root without the ending can be joined, but there might be exceptions with long adjectives or adjectives that are compounds themselves. The hypothetical form Lebenslangschicksalsschatz would in my opinion not occur in speech by native speakers.

Furthermore, as you may already have noticed, 'lifelong treasure/honey of fate' doesn't make too much sense.

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    Hm, but compound nouns are frequently formed with adjectives (as well as verbs, adverbs, prepositions, and so on) as their first constituent. That doesn't seem like an issue in and of itself. Just compare Schönschrift, Schwarzarbeit, Altkanzler, Kleinkaliberwaffe, Großeinsatz, etc. This word-formation type is also productive: Digitalsemester, Niesetikette, etc. The observation that lebenslang is an adjective doesn't really tell you much. – johnl Jul 11 at 19:21
  • @johnl I thougt about this. However, the question seemed to be about the 'famous' compound noun creation. Of course one can add that, e.g., the root of adjectives and verbs can be part of an compound, but not in an inflected form like lebenslange. On the other hand, would you accept (*)Lebenslangschicksalsschatz without any doubts? – amadeusamadeus Jul 11 at 19:39
  • The adjectives in A+N compounds seem to be mostly morphologically simple. (If the adjective is morphologically complex, the second part is an affix, not a word: Endlosschleife, Billiglohn.) – David Vogt Jul 11 at 20:04
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    @amadeusamadeus, no, not at all, but I did wonder why it wouldn't be acceptable. I think the issue is induced by the complexity of the right constituent. My working hypothesis is that a speaker interprets Schicksalsschatz as a (determinative) compound. Therefore, we run into an issue in terms of phonological structure: Stress must be on the initial member of a DC. But since here the base of the DC Lebenslang-Schicksalsschatz is also a DC, you'd have to stress Lebenslang and Schicksal, which makes it sound off. If the DC were in the left constituent, we wouldn't have the issue. – johnl Jul 11 at 20:23
  • (By the way, until it apparently got deleted a few minutes ago, there was a comment to this question with a link to the scene during which this "compound" was used. I listened to it and it did sound an awful lot like lebenslanger Schicksalsschatz, so probably we are having an academic discussion here. I'm not sure what led the user asking this question to believe that this was one word.) – johnl Jul 11 at 20:29
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Long German words are either

  • number words (neunhundertvierundachtzigtausendsiebenhundertsiebenunddreißig) which normally are not written as words but as sequences of decimal digits (984737) (but they still are single words).

or

  • nouns (Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung)

There are also long adjectives (krankenversicherungspflichtig, kommunikationswissenschaftlich, alleinvertretungsberechtigt), but they usually do not reach the extreme lengths of compound nouns, and in all examples I found there also exists a very similar noun (Krankenversicherungspflicht, Kommunikationswissenschaft, Alleinvertretungsberechtigung).

So, when we talk about long German words, we usually talk about compound nouns. But when you translate such a German monster noun into English, you get something like this:

Rindfleisch­etikettierungs­überwachungs­aufgaben­übertragungs­gesetz
Law on delegation of duties for supervision of labeling of beef

You can build this nominal group also in German:

Gesetz zur Übertragung der Aufgaben für die Überwachung der Etikettierung von Rindfleisch

But the original word is more like this:

beef labeling supervision duties delegation law

But the point is: All items from which the compound word is built are nouns. And this is not a special case, it is the standard:

  • Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung
    real estate transaction permission responsibility delegation regulation

  • Unterhaltungselektroniktelefonverarbeitungspartner
    consumer electronics phone processing partner

I am not aware of any exception. All examples of compound nouns I know consist only of other nouns.

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    As pointed out in another comment, compound nouns with non-noun first constituents are frequent (cf Ortner/Müller-Bollhagen, Deutsche Wortbildung: Substantivkomposita, 1991, pp 659-818 for the theory and hundreds of examples). Schönschrift, Schwarzarbeit, Altkanzler, Kleinkaliberwaffe, Großeinsatz, Digitalsemester, Niesetikette, Ich-AG, Aha-Erlebnis, Kopf-an-Kopf-Rennen, Achtzylindermotor, Leuchtreklame ... – johnl Jul 13 at 8:16
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Nein.

Lebenslang + Geschick kann man nicht zu Lebenslangeschick eindampfen. Es müsste, wenn schon, dann Lebenslanggeschick heißen.

Geschicksal wollte ich auch bemängeln, als Kunstwort aus Geschick + Schicksal, fand aber beim Wöterbuchnetz dasss es das Wort tatsächlich gibt, besser gab, es ist veraltet.

Verständlich ist es schon, wie πάντα ῥεῖ kommentierte, wenn auch mit Stolpern, aber nur als Spielerei mit der Sprache denkbar. Bei einer Boulevardzeitung habe ich ähnliche Bildungen wie Lebenslangstrafe auch schon gesehen, aber wie Amadeusamadeus schreibt, ist es kein sauberes Schuldeutsch.

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  • Blumento-Pferde... – miep Jul 13 at 7:13
  • Maten Salatoma. – user unknown Jul 13 at 13:21
  • I think this was intended as lebenslang + Schicksal + Schatz. – Carsten S Oct 24 at 10:12

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