I'm looking at a hand-written letter from 1902. It concerns a photograph which has the river Rhein in the background. There is a word apparently "Rheinhintergründsbild" but the "s" is unclear and I wonder if it is really there. I can only find this word, or the part "hintergründsbild", in dictionaries without that "s".

The meaning is clear. I'm just wondering about the spelling. Was the "linking s" ever used in such a case?


(My German is negligible, sorry about that.)

3 Answers 3


The letter is written in latin kursive, but the handwriting has some letters and peculiarities that come from German Kurrent or Sütterlin, like the arc over every letter u. These are not Umlauts (ü) but just normal letters u.

A "Hintergrundbild" (without s) is a backdrop, or a picture that only shows a background.

"Rheinhintergrundsbild" isn't an existing word that you would find in a dictionary, it's a fabrication that I have never heard before. Same for "Hintergrundsbild".

You could discuss whether the little break in the line is supposed to be an s or not - I think it is actually meant to be an s, so it's "Rheinhintergrundsbild", and the author uses this s to say that it is not a "Hintergrundbild", a picture that just shows a background, but a picture of him in front of a "Rheinhintergrund" (Rhine backdrop), so basically a "Rheinhintergrunds-Bild", not a "Rhein-Hintergrundbild".

  • That all makes a lot of sense, thanks. May 11, 2023 at 3:40

It is "Rheinhintergrundbild". There is is no "ü" here. The arc over the "u" was used to distinguish it from an "n". This was common practice, look at all other occurrences of the letter. Also there is no "s". The use of an "s" would not be correct, the standard is Hintergrundbild.

  • With regards to the "Fugen-s" or not, there is no real right or wrong, just common and uncommon, as there are no rules when to use one or not.
    – tofro
    May 10, 2023 at 15:58
  • @tofro It is surely a "philosophical" question whether there is something like a correct spelling in the present case and I would not claim that "Hintergrundsbild" is inacceptable. Yes, there are words like "Mannsbild" or "Weibsbild", but the difference is that "Hintergrundsbild" is definitely not the standard use (see Duden). And if we look at the whole text: The letter "s" occurs quite often, but in all these occurences it is has a different shape than the squiggle between the "d" and the "b".
    – Paul Frost
    May 10, 2023 at 20:11
  • In fact, Google ngrams tells me that "Hintergrundbild" (without the Fugen-s) seems to be a neologism, occurring only after around 1995, while "Hintergrundsbild" has apparently been around much longer (and still is).
    – tofro
    May 11, 2023 at 5:54
  • @tofro: DWDS findet Hintergrundsbild im ältesten Korpus einmal (von 1888) und im DWDS-Kernkorpus 20.Jhdt. gar nicht. "Hintergrundbild" wird im 20 Jhdt. 12mal gefunden, ab 1930. Das sind alles sehr kleine Zahlen.
    – HalvarF
    May 12, 2023 at 6:18

It is not an ü but an u, the squiggle is not an umlaut, but a way to distinguish u and n which may look the same in handwriting. There is a different umlaut mark in the text, compare with ähnlich müsste in the second line.

To me it is not clear if this is really an s.

Very few occurrences of Hintergrundsbild can be found, e.g.
https://www.dwds.de/r/?corpus=dtaxl&q=hintergrundsbild or
So it was not commonly used.

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