If you’ve ever laughed at someone who fell out of their chair, you’ve experienced Schadenfreude — this is what it means.
Have you ever laughed at one of those videos on Facebook or Twitter where a person runs into a tree, falls off their bike, or gets hit in the face with a branch? Finding pleasure and humor in the misfortune of others is something that most people don’t like to admit, but depending on the context, most people can relate to it.
Almost nobody wants to suffer or cause suffering to other people, but the old adage “comedy = tragedy + time” seems to be one of the foundational parts of human nature.
This specific kind of glee that comes from the harm inflicted on other people is the meaning of the word schadenfreude. It is one of the emotions that almost all people can identify with and experience pleasure inside of. This is what that word means, where it comes from, and why it is such a relatable feeling.
What Is Schadenfreude?
According to the English language dictionary, the word schadenfreude (scha-den-freude) is a feeling of pleasure derived from the humiliations or suffering of others. It is when you get a sense of self-satisfaction and humor from other people’s misfortunes, mainly when they occurred a long time ago.
This feeling is a psychologically consistent feeling that many people experience, even when they don’t actually dislike the person who is suffering. In many cases, schadenfreude is more like a love language that people like to express in a community and with others.
There are very few useful synonyms for the word schadenfreude, simply due to the complex and specific nature of the word at large. The closest word found in the English language is likely the word epicaricacy, but even that word doesn’t capture the full spectrum of meaning of the original word.
There are also no antonyms that genuinely capture the essence, but words like empathy and sensibility tend to capture the kind of emotional flexibility that schadenfreude doesn’t have.
What Is the Etymology of the Word Schadenfreude?
The German word schadenfreude is completely transposed into the English word. Lots of words in German have much more specific meanings in ways that most English concepts would have to be represented with a multitude of words.
In the study of words in the German language, the word schadenfreude has a lot of history. The original word comes from the Old High German frewida and the Old High German scado. As time went on and the language evolved, it transposed into the Middle High German schade and the Middle High German vreude.
Over time, words became the Modern German schaden which means “harm,” and freude, which means “joy.” When translated literally into English, the words mean “harm-joy.”
The Modern German schadenfreude is an excellent example of a German word with a specific meaning and connotation. When studying language news to see what words mean, these kinds of particular compound words make the German language unique and special since many languages are only able to communicate these kinds of ideas through fairly extensive phrases and sentences.
Why Does Schadenfreude Happen?
Psychologists and researchers have found that there are many reasons people experience schadenfreude in the modern world — some of the most common include envy, aggression, and a desire for justice.
Schadenfreude is a standard extension of a person’s own inferiority and self-consciousness put into practice in their daily lives. People are constantly comparing themselves to others, and when they find ways to affirm themselves through the flaws of others, it can make them feel better. When someone is experiencing such feelings, it can often be soothing to see other people’s suffering to ease their own.
For example, when a rival team or politician goes through a challenging circumstance, they will likely find joy in that because it makes their own side or position higher by comparison. This also occurs when they dislike someone and desire to see harm or justice done to them. This can be seen in politics, competition, and many other highly competitive cultures focused on personal success.
Examples of Schadenfreude in Conversation
The best way to learn how to use a word is the most natural way we all go through — watching other people use them. Here are some examples of schadenfreude in genuine conversation and sentences that you might actually use!
Take a look at these sentences, and then feel free to start using the word schadenfreude for yourself:
- Mr. Freu was definitely experiencing schadenfreude when the unruly class substituting for almost unilaterally failed the quiz.
- In my Ancient Greek studies, I understood how schadenfreude was such a large part of their highly competitive culture.
- The latest episode of The Simpsons capitalizes on the everlasting joys of schadenfreude.
- It almost feels wrong to say this, but I got a lot of schadenfreude when the rival team’s bus broke down on the way back to their school.
- It’s not often that I feel vindicated by the negative experiences of someone else, but I got lots of schadenfreude when I saw the school’s leaders get chewed out by the president.
Schadenfreude is a complicated and confusing word, not to mention its pronunciation difficulties.
If you come across any comments that you don’t know the meaning of, don’t hesitate to check out our blog here at The Word Counter. We’re always publishing topical articles about the English language and finding new ways to inform people of how they can develop how they communicate.
It’s our goal to help people learn how to communicate in new and powerful ways because communication is the foundation of almost all success in life. Take some time to browse our blog; we’re sure you’ll learn something new.
Just think of the looks that you’ll get when you actually use the word schadenfreude properly — even though some people might not even know the word, the fact that you do will give you lots of intellectual kudos from the people around you!