There are over 1 million words in the English language and I was rendered speechless to discover that the German language has fewer - way fewer, in fact 600,000 fewer according to my 'official' source...I found this fact so shocking because whenever you compare 2 books, that are the same book, but one is in English and one German then the German book is always, always thicker, and no it's not down to thicker paper/larger print, therefore surely there must be more words in the book. Maybe it's just because Germans can never say anything briefly, a note home from school will normally be a side of A4, mostly blather and wind that you have to hunt through in order to divine the actual message, it's annoying to put it mildly.
The sheer volume of words in a language also makes understanding what people say to you tricky, you say one thing and they respond with something that doesn't match the template you had prepared which leaves you looking, as usual like someone who doesn't know what they're talking about! There are 3 words in German meaning 'to dare', 3 words for ducking and yet then there's the word 'das Rezept' which can mean either a prescription from the doc or a recipe (à la Delia/Jamie).
The number of words in the German language is growing every year, although a lot of these words I don't have to learn as they're imports from the US and the UK, things like 'It Girl' and 'Aftershow party', and every year the German language celebrates a new word in the 'Wort des Jahres'*. Last year the word was 'Abwrackprämie' - coined to explain the rebate a customer could get from buying a brand sparkling new car whilst consigning an old wreck to the knackers yard.
This year's is yet to be decided, so here's the short list:
Lobbylitiker - noun, describes a politician who is not interested in the people they represent but is instead guided by larger concerns and industry.
Schäubeln - verb, to publicly expose a co-worker.
App - noun, straight from the English that one.
Afrika - noun, another obvious one, because of the summer of football...
Radicalminski - a Soviet style revolutionary, who is willing to sacrifice anything for their beliefs.
I wonder which word will win? Watch this space!
Meanwhile, on the otherside of the pond the Yanks of course have their own 'Global Language Monitor' which has already forecast what the most popular words of 2011 will be...a tad extreme don't you think? Although bearing in mind the misuse of the language that occurs at the hands (or should that be tongues?) of the Americans I don't think we should put too trust in their belief that 'Twenty eleven' will be the most popular word of 2011, especially when you consider that the top word (according to them) for 2010 is 'Spillcam'. Personally I think that the people behind the 'Global Language Monitor' need to revisit the definition of global.
* word of the year