January 25th 2017
Today I heard the word ‘schadenfreude‘ four times. I heard it twice at work, once one TV, and someone used it in a tweet that I read on Twitter. I guess that last one doesn’t really count as ‘hearing it’ but… nevermind.
If you didn’t already know, schadenfreude is a German noun that means:
pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune
It’s historically been an uncommonly used word in the English language due mainly to the fact that it’s a German word. But really, when you think about it, aren’t all English words German anyway? (No, they aren’t)
Schadenfreude is a word that has recently become a more common part of the average English person’s lexicon. A few years ago it was one of those words that pretentious people used to make themselves feel superior to us regular folk who are only fluent in our native language. But eventually, as the number of pretentious people in society increased, as did the circulation and general understanding of the word.
It grew into society because as much as pretentious people love using words that they know no one else knows the meaning of, what they love even more is explaining the definition of that word to their intellectual inferiors. (I realise that it’s ironic that I say that just after explaining what the word means)
“Wait, you mean you’ve never heard of this extremely specifically translated single German word that means an entire German phrase that sums up the feeling that I’ve just described to you? Let me educate you, it means ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’ and now you know.”
In some way, the act of using the word and then explaining it’s definition to people is an example of schadenfreude itself. They take pleasure in the fact that the person is misfortunate enough to not know the meaning of the word.
Anyway, that’s not where I was initially heading with this post…
Today I heard the word schadenfreude four times.
As I’ve described (in depth, I think) it used to be an uncommon word, but it’s increasing use by society populated it. Plus the fact that it was used by Lisa on an episode of The Simpsons, and – you guessed it – she had to explain what it meant because Lisa is atypically pretentious with her intelligence.
But what’s interesting to me about it’s growing popularity as a noun – other than the fact that it’s one word to say an entire phrase, which as a lazy person I totally dig – is the fact that it’s a real life example of the evolution of language. As a writer that fascinates me.
Whenever I hear a word or a phrase that intrigues me I look up it’s etymology, where it came from, when it first came into use. (I’m a word-nerd, okay?)
I said it kind of flippantly earlier, but it’s true that a lot of words in the English language are Germanic in origin. There are also a lot of words with French etymology, or with Latin roots. English is a kind of hodge-podge of a language which is what makes it so simultaneously difficult and easy to learn.
See. Right there. In that last sentence what the fuck does ‘hodge-podge’ mean? I’ve used that word because it means exactly what I’m trying to say in one word, and I assume that my reader will too. But what does it mean? Where does it come from? No idea.
But with schadenfreude it’s interesting because I know what it means, I know where it comes from, and I’ve literally seen it evolve into the English language over the years. I don’t own a dictionary but I bet it’s in there.
The following is a graph that shows the Google search trends for the term ‘schadenfreude meaning’ over the years.
See what I mean?
Does that fascinate anyone else or am I just really, really boring? Don’t answer that – not even in your head.
Until tomorrow, pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.