That’s the Word for It: Schadenfreude


Schadenfreude is a complex emotion. Toddlers openly express the feeling while adults conceal it. The wry smile at someone’s misfortune reflects feelings that exist in the emotional spectrum. Sometimes schadenfreude erupts as a result of rivalry and sometimes it is justice based. The word schadenfreude was first used in English in 1853 by RC Trench, the archbishop of Dublin,  in On the Study of Words.

Some instances of the word used in books:

“To feel envy is human, to savour schadenfreude is devilish.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, On Human Nature

“When I was little, I used to pour salt on slugs. I liked watching them dissolve before my eyes. Cruelty is always sort of fun until you realize that something’s getting hurt. It would be one thing to be a loser if it meant that no one paid attention to you, but in school, it means you’re actively sought out. You’re the slug, and they’re holding all the salt. And they haven’t developed a conscience. There’s a word we learned in social studies: schadenfreude. It’s when you enjoy watching someone else suffer. The real question though, is why? I think part of it is self-preservation. And part of it is because a group always feels more like a group when it’s banded together against an enemy. It doesn’t matter if that enemy has never done anything to hurt you-you just have to pretend you hate someone even more than you hate yourself. You know why salt works on slugs? Because it dissolved in the water that’s part of a slug’s skin, so the water on the inside its body starts to flow out. They slug dehydrates. This works with snails, too. And with leeches. And with people like me. With any creature, really, too thin-skinned to stand up for itself.”
― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

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