Lexical analysis of "The Magic Mountain": more than 3,300 neologisms and undefined words!

(actualisé le ) by Ray

Thomas Mann’s monumental (308,000 words, 984 pages) The Magic Mountain is to German literature what “Don Quixote” is to Spanish literature, what "War and Piece" is to Russian literature, and what "À la recherche du temps perdu" is to French literature - a reference and a model that remains at the top of the most illustrious literary works ever produced in the language.

The reader of this seminal work is immediately struck by the extensiveness and expressiveness of the vast vocabulary used by its very cultivated and erudite author.

A quite astonishing number of the words used in this opus are not defined in the leading and most extensive German-language dictionary of our time, the on-line (or paper or e-book) version of the Duden Deutsches Universal-wörterbuch with more than 500,000 entries.

Most of them are simple combinations of commonly-used words whose meaning is immediately obvious to the native speaker: for example the first entry in our compendium below, “der Abenddiest” (the evening service), which fuses “Abend” (evening) and “Dienst” (service) into a straightforward compound term that is so obvious that it would never even occur to the German-speaking reader to look it up in a dictionary.

However that is by no means the case for the rest of us, as Mark Twain remarked in his amusing essay on The Awful German Language, so for the purposes of this study it is a neologism, or at least an undefined word.

We have identified in the document below over 3300 of the undefined words in this wide-ranging opus [1], showing for each the English-language translation and the page number in the reference Fisher edition pictured here in which they can be seen in context.

This compendium excludes several hundred other undefined words in this opus of various types:
- words whose spelling has evolved since the book was published in 1924
(ex: bewußtlos=>bewusstlos, Greuel=>Gräuel, Sammetauge=>Samtauge, etc.);
- foreign words (of which there are a great number);
- variations of proper nouns that one would not expect to find in a dictionary
(ex: Bordeauxglas, Berghofpublikum, Hippokratesbüste, Julirevolution, Kirgisenauge, etc.);
- words of an excessively technical nature (that are no doubt defined in specialised dictionaries);
- other undefined words that have escaped our notice.

Has any other novel in the history of Western literature [2] ever had nearly as many neologisms as Mr. Mann’s magnificent masterpiece?, one wonders ...


[1of which a brief overview can be seen elsewhere on this site.

[2apart from James Joyce’s experimental and extravagant exercise-de-style Finnegan’s Wake (1939), of course – but is that book a novel? Has anyone ever been able to read it to the end? ...