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Schadenfreude

The German loanword schadenfreude is a recent addition to the English language, but its meaning is so simple and its concept so universal that it’s probably going to stay. Plus, there is no corresponding English word. Simply defined, schadenfreude is pleasure derived from others’ misfortune. It is most often used in reference to the misfortunes of someone who is privileged or has been exceptionally fortunate in the past, but it doesn’t have to be used this way.

Like most newly arrived loanwords, schadenfreude is often italicized, and many writers still feel the need to define it or introduce it by remarking how funny it is that Germans actually have a word for this—for example:

Only if you are afflicted with schadenfreude—that is, if you yield to the temptation to take pleasure in the troubles of others—will you be pleased to know that every penny of that $180 million is now in jeopardy. [Chicago Reader]

It wasn’t exactly schadenfreude – pleasure people get from the misfortune of others – but still, fantasies were being fueled. [NY Daily News]


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But schadenfreude has earned its spot in English, so it can go unitalicized and with no accompanying explanation.

Examples

Jessica Simpson, whose 70-pound gain during her recent pregnancy hasn’t quite reversed course, also is in the eye of a schadenfreude storm. [New York Times]

While the schadenfreude of the Brett Favre, Tiger Woods and Rick Pitino sagas is tempered by the real pain their actions may have caused loved ones, this story is just an awesome pillow fight. [Fox Sports]

There was some sense of schadenfreude as private sector bosses can now look on and watch civil servants face the pay and recruitment freezes. [Belfast Telegraph]

There’s also a psychic benefit for conservatives: the schadenfreude occasioned by the hard left’s anguish. [Wall Street Journal]

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Comments

  1. Gloat – contemplate or dwell on one’s own success or another’s misfortune with malignant pleasure. Sounds a lot like Schadenfreude.

    • Johan Nilsson says:

      Gloat is a verb. Schadenfreude is a noun. In Sweden we have our own word for Schadenfreude, “skadeglädje” which is a direct translation from the German word. There is no noun for “skadeglädje”. I’m not sure but I don’t think that there is a noun for gloat.

  2. It is indeed a mystery as to why there was no word for the malicious joy you get from others’ distress. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, but from my perspective It’s ludicrous to claim one does not enjoy the misfortune of others – it’s a common practice. In Finland the word for it is “vahingonilo”, which consists of words “vahinko” mishap in the genitive form and “ilo” joy. Anyhow, I wanted to point out that there is a word for it in English, though it’s rarely used: epicaricacy.

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