I heard the German word Schadenfreude for the first time today. It is an interesting concept, and there is no adequate English word to compare. My dictionary says it means

Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

Wikipedia gives words found in other languages, as well as a few phrases in which it is used. I was particularly interested in the Finnish phrase,

Vahingonilo on aidointa iloa, sillä siihen ei sisälly tippaakaan kateutta

which roughly translates to

Schadenfreude is the purest joy, since it doesn’t include a bit of envy.

What a curious statement. This implies to me that joy often has a tint of envy to it. At first, this seems odd, but if it is joy derived by something done by someone else, then I guess you might consider it to be envious joy. Feeling joy over someone else’s accomplishments might make me feel inadequate and jealous, while any joy I might feel derived from someone else’s tribulations shares no sense of envy.

I have definitely felt Schadenfreude, but even as I realize there is no envy involved, guilt quickly rears its ugly head for reveling in someone else’s pain. I can thank the Catholic Church for that.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jason. on April 28, 2007 at 6:34 am

    How bizarre. I was explaining this word to one of my co-workers just this afternoon. I love the word, and the concept, though not necessarily the realization that I’m at that moment experiencing it…..


  2. Posted by Waterbury Girl on April 28, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Seriously? This was one of the first words I learned in German 101…


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