Many of us are familiar with the German word schadenfreude. It refers to the pleasure you feel from observing another person’s misfortune. Think about the guilty but nevertheless real surge of joy you get when your arch-rival sports team loses a big game, and you’ve captured it.
Schadenfreude is a very useful word. So why does a specific word for that sensation exist in the German language, but not in English? What caused the Germans, at some point in the past, to identify that very particular feeling and coin a term for it, and why didn’t somebody in merry old England do likewise? You can’t tell me that, during the period of one of their countless wars, the British weren’t happy to see the French take a pratfall. Why didn’t they come up with a word to capture that specific unseemly yet nevertheless real surge of pleasure?
Schadenfreude doesn’t stand alone. In fact, the Germans have been pretty good at creating lots of words that capture unique feelings or circumstances. Here are some:
Futterneid — translated as “food jealousy” or “food envy,” it refers to the feeling you have when you go out to dinner with someone and they order food that looks much better than what you ordered, and you then suffer through the meal wishing you’d ordered their dish.
Fernweh — translated as “distance sickness” (the opposite of home sickness), it refers to the overpowering desire to be traveling, preferably to somewhere far away.
Fremdschamen — the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment you experience when watching someone else go through a personally humiliating experience, like telling an unfunny joke to an audience or having way too much to drink at a work-related function.
Kummerspeck — translated literally as “grief bacon,” it refers to excess weight that is put on by emotional overeating.
Torschlusspanik — translated literally as “gate shut panic,” it identifies the fear that certain opportunities or activities are being closed to you as you get older.
Weltschmerz — the sensation of melancholy and resignation that you experience when your hopeful expectations about what will happen in the world fall disappointingly short . . . again.
We could use such words in English, so the word creators need to get cracking. And isn’t it interesting how many of those German words describing unique, very precise feelings or conditions can be applied to what we are experiencing in 2020?