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Schadenfreude (pronounced /ˈʃɑːdənfrɔɪdə/, Template:IPA-de) is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.[1] This German word is used as a loanword in English and sometimes in other languages. Philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno defined schadenfreude as “largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate.”[2]


Linguistic analysis

Spelling and etymology

In German, Schadenfreude is capitalized, as are all nouns. When used as a loanword in English, however, it is not, unless the origin of the word is meant to be emphasized. The corresponding German adjective is schadenfroh. The word derives from Schaden, "adversity, harm", and Freude, "joy"; Schaden derives from the Middle High German schade, from the Old High German scado, and is a cognate with English "scathe". Freude comes from the Middle High German freude, from the Old High German frewida, and is a cognate with the (usually archaic) English word "frith". A distinction exists between "secret schadenfreude" (a private feeling) and "open schadenfreude" (Hohn, a German word roughly translated as "scorn") which is outright public derision.

English equivalents

Little-used English words synonymous with schadenfreude have been derived from the Greek word ἐπιχαιρεκακία.[3][4] Nathan Bailey's 18th-century Universal Etymological English Dictionary, for example, contains an entry for epicharikaky that gives its etymology as a compound of epi (upon), chaira (joy/charity/heart), and kakon (evil).[5][6] A popular modern collection of rare words, however, gives its spelling as "epicaricacy." [7]

A more common English expression with a similar meaning is 'Roman holiday', a metaphor taken from the poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" by George Gordon, Lord Byron, where a gladiator in Ancient Rome expects to be "butcher'd to make a Roman holiday" while the audience would take pleasure from watching his suffering. The term suggests debauchery and disorder in addition to sadistic enjoyment.[8]

Another phrase with a meaning similar to Schadenfreude is "morose delectation" ("delectatio morosa" in Latin), meaning "the habit of dwelling with enjoyment on evil thoughts".[9] The medieval church taught morose delectation as a sin.[10][11] French writer Pierre Klossowski maintained that the appeal of sadism is morose delectation.[12][13]


The Buddhist concept of mudita, "sympathetic joy" or "happiness in another's good fortune," is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude.[14][15] Alternatively envy, unhappiness in another's good fortune, could be considered the counterpart of schadenfreude. Completing the quartet is "unhappiness at another's misfortune", which may be termed empathy, pity or compassion.

Literary usage and philosophical analysis

[original research?]

The Book of Proverbs warns against the emotion of schadenfreude: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him." (Proverbs 24:17-18, King James Version).

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle used the term epikhairekakia (alternatively epikairekakia; ἐπιχαιρεκακία in Greek) as part of a triad of terms, in which epikhairekakia stands as the opposite of phthonos, and nemesis occupies the mean. Nemesis is "a painful response to another's undeserved good fortune," while phthonos is "a painful response to any good fortune," deserved or not. The epikhairekakos person actually takes pleasure in another's ill fortune.[16][17]

During the 17th century, Robert Burton wrote in his work The Anatomy of Melancholy, "Out of these two [the concupiscible and irascible powers] arise those mixed affections and passions of anger, which is a desire of revenge; hatred, which is inveterate anger; zeal, which is offended with him who hurts that he loves; and ἐπιχαιρεκακία, a compound affection of joy and hate, when we rejoice at other men's mischief, and are grieved at their prosperity; pride, self-love, emulation, envy, shame, &c., of which elsewhere."[18]

Scientific studies

A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as "delighting in others' misfortune." Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.[19]

A 2006 experiment suggests that men, but not women, enjoy seeing "bad" people suffer. The study was designed to measure empathy, by watching which brain centers are stimulated when subjects inside an fMRI observe someone having a painful experience. Researchers expected that the brain's empathy center would show more stimulation when those seen as "good" got an electric shock than they would if the shock was given to someone the subject had reason to consider bad. This was indeed the case, but for male subjects the brain's pleasure centers also lit up when someone else got a shock that the male thought was well-deserved.[20]

Brain-scanning studies show that schadenfreude is correlated with envy. Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain's reward centers (e.g. the ventral striatum) were activated by news that the people envied had suffered misfortune. The magnitude of the brain's schadenfreude response could even be predicted from the strength of the previous envy response. [21][22]

In popular culture

The word Schadenfreude became increasingly known in popular culture from the end of the 20th century. In 1991, during The Simpsons episode "When Flanders Failed", Lisa asks Homer if he's ever heard of schadenfreude after he expresses delight that Ned Flanders' business is failing. Defining it for him, she says, "It's a German term for "shameful joy", taking pleasure in the suffering of others."[23] By 2000, the word was used without explanation during a Malcolm in the Middle (TV series) episode "High School Play": after Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) abandons the Krelboynes to play the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and has forgotten all of his lines, Krelboyne Lloyd (Evan Matthew Cohen) comments, "Normally, I would enjoy the schadenfreude, but this is just sad."

In an episode of Two and a Half Men, the character Rose explains the German origin and meaning of schadenfreude to Charlie Harper. Later she confesses to feeling glaukenstucken, which she describes as guilt over having felt schadenfreude; when Charlie expresses surprise that the Germans have a word for that as well, she admits that they don't, but she's hoping that glaukenstucken catches on.

In a 2003 episode of The West Wing, White House Press Secretary C. J. Cregg (Allison Janney) uses the term "schadenfreude" and then has to explain it. Cregg notes that after an important member of the White House staff, a friend of hers, made a big political mistake, Washington insiders will be enjoying schadenfreude. When an assistant asks the definition of the word, Cregg responds, "Schadenfreude: taking joy in the suffering of others. You know, the whole rationale behind the House of Representatives"[24]

In the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q the song "Schadenfreude" parodies the language instruction songs of Sesame Street. [1] The song sung by characters Gary Coleman and Nicky, describes schadenfreude as "German for 'happiness at the misfortune of others'." In the song, schadenfreude is also described as "making me feel glad that I'm not you" and "people taking pleasure in your pain". The characters use examples like "D'ja ever clap when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses?" and "don'tcha feel all warm and cozy, watching people out in the rain" as being schadenfreude.[25]

A 2005 episode of the television drama Boston Legal carries the term as its title. In the episode attorney Alan Shore describes this condition to a jury in order to describe the only way they could possibly attain a guilty verdict against his client. In the 2006 Hellblazer graphic novel The Red Right Hand, it is revealed that schadenfreude has saved the world. [26]

Neologisms were coined from the word as early as 1993, when Lincoln Caplan, in his book "Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire," [27] used the portmanteau "Skaddenfreude" to describe the delight that competitors of Skadden Arps took in its troubles of the early 1990s. Another portmanteau is "Spitzenfreude," coined by The Economist to refer to the fall of Eliot Spitzer.[28]

The transposed variant "Freudenschade" seems to have been multiply invented to mean sorrow at another person's success. [29][30]

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.
  2. ^ Cited in Portmann, John (2000). When bad things happen to other people. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92335-2. , p. 186.
  3. ^ Shipley, Joseph T. (1955). Dictionary of Early English. Philosophical Library. ISBN 978-0806529264. 
  4. ^ Novobatzky, Peter; Shea , Ammon (1955). Depraved and Insulting English. Harvest Books. ISBN 978-0156011495. 
  5. ^ Bailey, Nathan (1737). Universal Etymological English Dictionary. London. 
  6. ^ Bailey, Nathan (1751). Dictionarium Britannicum. London. 
  7. ^ Byrne, Josefa H. (1984). Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words. Pocket. ISBN 0671497820. 
  8. ^ Roman holiday - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  9. ^ definition of morose delectation, Oxford English Dictionary
  10. ^ Prima Secundae Partis, Q. 74, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, 1920; Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Online Edition Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight.
  11. ^ Chapter 6 Proposing the Story of the World, Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth, Basic Books, 2006.
  12. ^ Heterodox Religion and Post-Atheism: Bataille / Klossowski/ Foucault, Jones Irwin, ISSN 1393-614X Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy Vol. 10 2006.
  13. ^ Klossowski, Pierre. 1991. Sade, My Neighbour, translated by Alphonso Lingis. Illinois. Northwestern University Press.
  14. ^ The Upside of Shadenfreude, Joshua Zader, Mudita Journal, December 6, 2005.
  15. ^ Are you Schadenfreude or Mudita?, Sirtumble, One of Six Billion..., February 6, 2005.
  16. ^ Pedrick, Victoria; Oberhelman, Steven M. (2006). The Soul of Tragedy: Essays on Athenian Drama. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226653068. 
  17. ^ Nicomachean Ethics, 2.7.1108b1-10
  18. ^ Robert Burton (1621). The Anatomy of Melancholy. pp. t. 1, sect. 1, memb. 2, subsect. 8. 
  19. ^ St. John, Warren. "Sorrow So Sweet: A Guilty Pleasure in Another's Woe". New York Times, Aug. 24, 2002.
  20. ^ Singer T, Seymour B, O'Doherty JP, Stephan KE, Dolan RJ, Frith CD (January 2006). "Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others". Nature 439 (7075): 466–9. doi:10.1038/nature04271. PMID 16421576.  Lay-summary
  21. ^ Science (February 13, 2009) "When Your Gain Is My Pain and Your Pain Is My Gain: Neural Correlates of Envy and Schadenfreude" by Hidehiko Takahashi et al.
  22. ^ New York Times (February 17, 2009) "In Pain and Joy of Envy, the Brain May Play a Role" by Natalie Angier
  23. ^ Lisa Simpson (Character) - Quotes
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ In order to defeat the mass suicidal effects of the empathy engine a great saturation of positive emotion is required - this is found from the group of Scottish soldiers who hear over their radio that the England soccer team has lost a world cup quarter final match to Portugal. John Constantine's reaction to the elation of the soldiers is "Schadenfreude. Delighting in the misery of others. That's the purest emotion I've ever felt."
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Yahoo Groups "worthless word for the day is ... freudenschade"
  30. ^ Daily Stanford (2006) "Freudenschade"


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

WOTD - 11 August 2008    
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See also Schadenfreude




From German Schadenfreude, from Schaden (damage, harm) + Freude (joy)


  • (UK, US) enPR: SHäʹdənfroid'ə/, IPA: /ˈʃɑː.dənˌfrɔɪ.də/
  •  Audio (US)help, file
  • Rhymes: -ɔɪdə




schadenfreude (uncountable)

  1. Malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else's misfortune.
    • 1897, The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by Thomas Bailey Saunders, "Human Nature",
      But it is Schadenfreude, a mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others, which remains the worst trait in human nature.
    • 2003, Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx, Avenue Q, "Schadenfreude",
      Sorry, Nicky, human nature, nothing I can do~! It's schadenfreude makin' me feel glad that I'm not you!

Derived terms


See also



Citable sentences

Up to date as of December 22, 2010

Here are sentences from other pages on Schadenfreude, which are similar to those in the above article.

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