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 The Diary of a Word Nerd

  • Writer's pictureGrace Kidder

Schadenfreude: The Emotion We Love to Hate

The universe has pretty much been screaming at me to write a post about the word "schadenfreude." In the past ten days, I have seen/heard this word not once, not twice, but three times! (The first was in an Instagram post, and the other two were in TV shows if you were curious.) "Schadenfreude" is a German word that means "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others."

A Word of the Week graphic with the word "schadenfreude" and its definition.

I first heard this word in the musical Avenue Q.* In the song of the same name, a character defines schadenfreude as "happiness at the misfortune of others." The characters go on to detail several scenarios in which they find pleasure in other people's unfortunate circumstances. The song—along with the rest of the show—is hilarious, but very irreverent and very unsuitable for children, should you want to look it up.

The interesting thing about schadenfreude is that, while somewhat unsavory, it is a common emotion. It's the reason people laugh at someone falling over (America's Funniest Home Videos, anyone?), the little feeling of pleasure you get when a coworker you don't like gets reprimanded, the twinge of glee at a rival sports team missing a shot, etc. There are a lot of fascinating articles about the psychology of schadenfreude, if you're into that sort of thing.

Happy researching!

*Avenue Q is a 2003 musical with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty.

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