The Grammarphobia Blog

Schadenfreudian analysis

Q: “Schadenfreude” is almost commonplace these days and, I suppose, Avenue Q has something to do with it. However, it seems to me that a parallel word should also exist, as that underlying feeling is equally common. Is there such a word (German or otherwise)?

A: This question has been tossed around now and then by language junkies: Is there a parallel word for “schadenfreude,” one that means sadness at another’s good fortune? And if not, can we make one up?

“Schadenfreude” means delight at another’s misfortune, and, as you suggest, many people were probably introduced to it by the song of the same name from the musical Avenue Q.

The German word is a compound of the nouns schaden (adversity, injury) and freude (joy, pleasure).

For the inverse (if that’s the right term), some have suggested simply rearranging the parts and using “freudenschade” to mean pain caused by another’s joy. A good answer. Never mind that there’s no such word in German.

If there were, it might have humorous connotations. In German, a freudenhaus (literally, “joy house”) is a brothel, and a freudenmädchen (“joy girl”) is a prostitute. A compound that means “pleasure pain” might conjure up images of booted mädchens carrying whips.

Some inventive folks have come up with a second pseudo-German word, “glückshmerz” (literally “luck pain”), on the analogy of real German words like weltschmerz (“world pain,” or melancholy) and mittelschmerz (mid-cycle or ovulation pain).

Who knows whether any of these pseudo-Teutonic inventions will stick? One thing we can say is that no English words seem just right for either feeling joy at another’s pain or pain at another’s joy.

The Internet has many entertaining discussions of this. The Language Log, a blog maintained by the linguist Mark Liberman, had postings about it in 2009 and 2007.

Various wags have reported sightings of compounds like these:

“podenfreude,” reveling in the superior technology of one’s iPod;

“blondenfreude,” glee felt when a rich and powerful blonde gets her comeuppance;

“Frankenfreude,” joy at Al Franken’s early election setbacks (anyone who felt Frankenfreude early on must have felt Frankenschmerz when he finally won);

“Palinfreude,” liberal pleasure at Sarah Palin’s stumbles;

“googlefreude”/”googleschade”/”schadengoogle,” any of which might be the result of a pundit’s unfortunate words coming back to haunt him;

“Spitzenfreude” (joy at Eliot Spitzer’s misfortunes);

“shadensigmundfreude” (the glee that Freud’s critics take in falsifying his claims);

and finally “spoonenfreude” (taking joy in spoonerisms). But as one commentator pointed out, to be true to its spirit this one ought to be “froonenspeude.”

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