• schadenfreude •
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Mischief-joy, gleeful joy in the misfortune of others.
Notes: This Good Word has retained so much of its original German character that it has no English relatives. It does carry a few spelling pitfalls. First, remember that it uses the German spelling of [sh] with a C in the middle, schaden. Also, freude is spelled and pronounced like Freud, with the [e] before the [u]. In German, all nouns are capitalized, so this one would be, too. However, in English it is an ordinary common noun and so, like them, is capitalized only at the beginnings of sentences.
In Play: This oddball word implies such a lack of compassion, you might think that decent people like ourselves would have little use for it. However, legitimate occasions for us to feel schadenfreude do arise: "I did feel a little schadenfreude when the guy who was robbing my house fell off the ladder and broke his arm." In general, however, schadenfreude is not worth the emotional effort: "I was displeased that Lindsey came to the party in the same dress as I was wearing, but when she dropped a meatball on hers at the dinner table, I must confess to a little schadenfreude."
Word History: Today?s Good Word is still hot from being purloined from German. It is a German compound comprising schaden "to hurt, harm" + Freude "joy". Schaden comes from Old High German skado, which also devolved into English scathe "harm, hurt" via Old Norse skaša. Freude comes from Old High German frewida, akin to the same froh "joy, happiness" found in contemporary German fröhlich "happy". Other Indo-European languages also have words with this unsavory emotional reaction. In Greek it is epichairekakia, the Dutch equivalent is leedvermaak, the Russian word is zloradstvo, and in Swedish it is skadeglädje. So, why did English have to borrow its word for this sentiment? Are English-speakers so morally pure as to only recently discover this off-key pleasure?
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