First post on my new blog! Posterous shut down, so here I am over on Wordpress. I hope it lasts longer than Posterous did…

UPDATE: Evidently it didn’t. Although Wordpress is still around, I’m here on now.

German is a wonderful language. I don't speak it nearly as well as I would like to, but I take every chance to read Die Welt or chat in German. What I love most about it is the structure, with each word in a sentence supporting every other word, meaning that a change in a word-ending can change the meaning of a phrase quite radically.

Some people are put off by the complexity of German, or by some of its idiosyncrasies. Famously, Mark Twain wrote a piece called "The Awful German Tongue", making gentle fun of peculiarities that Samuel Clemens himself found when learning German.

One of my own favourite features of the German tongue is the way you can create new words by mashing together existing words. This process can be taken to ridiculous lengths, as in Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, which means the Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services (source: H2G2). In less extreme cases though this facility in word creation enables enormous precision of expression, to the point that the resulting words get adopted in other languages. Examples of useful German composite words adopted in English might be Zeitgeist or Schadenfreude. Even auto-correct has no problem with those as English words!

I want to propose a new word along the same lines: Arschlocherkennungsfreude, the small pleasure one takes in correctly identifying an idiot. I coined this word one day on the motorway, when I spotted clues in the body language of a car in front of me that led me to understand that it was about to change lanes without indicating or checking the mirrors, into the spot I was about to occupy. I backed off the throttle, and sure enough the car swerved right in front of me.

After exploring the ancestry of the driver for a few generations out loud, and making some choice observations on their offspring's prospects in life, I realised that I was actually mildly pleased to have correctly identified and allowed for the driver's idiocy. Why should this be so?

Quite simply, I had validated my own superior expertise in my own mind (95% of drivers, including me, identify their own skills as above average). Maybe Arschlocherckennungsfreude is a bit limiting as a term, except that it gives the all-important dimension of comparison with a point of reference - in this case, the swerving lunatic in front of me.

Either way, I challenge you to come up with an equally pithy word in English.