I always feel sorry for dogs that have to wear one of those neck cones. They’ve got to be embarrassed. Having to wear a cone shows that you don’t have the kind of control that a self-respecting dog really should have, and the only way you can be stopping from worrying stitches or constantly licking a wound is through some artificial restraint. And, because you’re wearing an embarrassing neck cone, you can’t do what a dog needs to do — like chew from time to time on your back leg.
Yes, I’ve always thought: dogs must really hate those neck cones.
Now there’s proof of it. Here’s an article about Barley, a golden retriever who lives in Amsterdam. Poor Barley got one of those despised neck cones when he was neutered. When Barley got the cone, he started moping around and not behaving like his normal, happy self. Then his human family decided to see if Barley would feel better if they put one of the neck cones on the golden retriever stuffed animal that is Barley’s favorite toy and boon companion, and sure enough — Barley perked right up when he saw his pal in a cone, too. You might call his reaction a bit of friendly schadenfreude. In fact, you might call it canine conenfreude.
It’s nice to see a confirmation that dogs definitely have complex feelings, too. Now if we could only figure out a way to test that The Far Side cartoon that postulated that dogs don’t like to stay inside playing the violin while other dogs are outside, pestering the postman.
Cultural anthropologists will tell you that simply learning about individual words in a language can teach you a lot about a people. The fact that the Inuit and Yupik languages feature many different words for snow — words like “aqilokoq” for “softly falling snow” and “piegnartoq” for “the snow [that is] good for driving sled” — gives you a pretty good idea that the Inuit and Yupik live in a climate where snow is prevalent and minute differences in the form of snow can be really important.
So, what does it tell you about the German culture that Germans developed the words schadenfreude and gluckschmerz? Schadenfreude refers to the sensation of feeling pleasure at the suffering of others, and gluckschmerz means feeling unhappy about the good fortune of others. Neither of these words really has a close synonym in the English language. That indicates that the Germans felt a need to capture and express precise sentiments that the English apparently weren’t experiencing all that often.
Schadenfreude and gluckschmerz suggest that the Germans are very emotionally sensitive, closely attuned to what’s happening to their perceived rivals, and deeply competitive with those people. It’s worth noting that these precisely expressive German words seem to get borrowed most frequently when English speakers are talking about what has happened to rival sports teams or hated political opponents — which gives you a good sense of the intense, visceral feelings that Germans must be experiencing often enough to invent specific words for them.
So, are there words in the American idiom that would tell cultural anthropologists something meaningful about our culture? Well, when you think about it, we seem to have a lot of words that describe, with subtle differences, people acting like jerks.
Schadenfreude is a useful word that describes a common, albeit not very atttractive, emotion. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines schadenfreude as “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.”
Schadenfreude is an emotion that is well known to any fan of a sports team that has a bitter rival. When you beat your most important foe, when your arch-rival experiences a bad season or a tough loss, you remember the bitter defeats to that rival and you feel a bit of guilty pleasure at their current failure.
So it is with Ohio State and Michigan. I am confident that Michigan fans reveled in their domination of the rivalry during the 1990s, and Ohio State fans are reveling in their dominance now. For those of you interested in wallowing in a bit of schadenfreude, we offer some links to Michigan football blogs.
Big House Blog
The Wolverine Blog
We know their pain, because we experienced that pain in the 1990s. A big part of schadenfreude is that we are just glad that we are not on the receiving end of the pain now.