• weltschmerz •
Pronunciation: velt-shmerts • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Sadness or pessimism over the suffering in the world.
Notes: Today's Good Word shares an initial constituent with a previous Good Word, weltanschauung "world outlook". Because German capitalizes all nouns, we may capitalize weltschmerz if we wish; however, since it is now a firmly established English word and English does not capitalize common nouns, we are not obliged to do so. Don't forget, though, (1) the C between the S-H at the beginning of the word or that (2) W is still pronounced [v] as in German.
In Play: Most of us who have succeeded in the industrialized world have a sense of regret for the suffering elsewhere in the world: "Because of her sense of weltschmerz, Mildred gives to every world charity that rings her up or drops her a line." World charities depend on it. Of course, not all of us who help in other countries around the world do so out of anything so vague as weltschmerz: "I don't build schools in Africa out of weltschmerz but because I love the people there."
Word History: Today's Good Word may have been coined by the German writer Jean Paul Richter, from Welt "world" + Schmerz "pain", but it certainly was popularized in German literature by Heinrich Heine. Welt was originally a Germanic compound *wer-ald- "life or age of man" from wer- "man" + ald "old, age". The stem wer- made it to Old English as were "man", where it combined with wolf to give us the word for the wolf-man, werewolf, before dying out. Wer-ald itself, of course, became world in English. A relative of were in Latin is vir "man", the root of the English borrowing, virile "manly". (Today we thank Mark Bailey, someone who helps the world's suffering by suggesting excellent words like today's for our series.)