Schadenfreude (ˈʃaːdənˌfʁɔʏ̯də ) is enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else. The word referring to this emotion has been borrowed from German by the English language and is sometimes also used as a loanword by 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.”

Spelling, etymology, and English equivalents

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 (damage, harm) and Freude (joy); Schaden derives from the Middle High German schade, from the Old High German scado. Freude comes from the Middle High German vreude, from the Old High German frewida, from fröh, (happy). 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. Little-used English words synonymous with schadenfreude have been derived from the Greek word ἐπιχαιρεκακία. 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), and kakon (evil). A popular modern collection of rare words, however, gives its spelling as "epicaricacy."

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. 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". The medieval church taught morose delectation as a sin. French writer Pierre Klossowski (1905-2001) maintained that the appeal of sadism is morose delectation.

The Buddhist concept of mudita, "sympathetic joy" or "happiness in another's good fortune," is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude. 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 pity or compassion.

Literary and philosophical analysis

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.

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.

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.

One recent (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 MRI 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 result for their female subjects, 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.


Expressions in other languages

  • Arabic, the word "shamateh" (شماتة) exactly corresponds to "deriving joy from the misfortune that befalls on others". In a poem attributed to ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, he warns that "And do not complain to the enemies constantly - For the enemies' "shamateh" is a disease - And do not ask forgiveness from someone who lacks generosity - For there is no water for the thirsty in a fire".
  • Chinese, the phrase xìngzāi lèhuò is an old idiom that directly translates to "enjoying (other's) calamity (and) laughing at (other's) misfortune".
  • Egen lykke er at foretrække men andres ulykke er dog ikke at foragte: "(One's) own happiness is to be preferred, but the misfortune of others should not be scorned."
  • Der er ingen fryd som skadefryd: "There is no glee like schadenfreude."
  • Geen schoner vermaak dan leedvermaak proverb: "No pleasure more beautiful than schadenfreude." (Proverb, often used ironically).
  • Neid zu fühlen ist menschlich, Schadenfreude zu genießen teuflisch: "To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish." (Arthur Schopenhauer)
  • Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude: "Schadenfreude is the best form of joy." Often used ironically to criticize somebody's display of schadenfreude. A modern witticism; the real German proverb from which this derives is "Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude." (Anticipation is the best joy.)
  • Lachen heißt: schadenfroh sein, aber mit gutem Gewissen: "Humor is just Schadenfreude with a clear conscience." (Nietzsche)
  • kahjurõõm on kõige suurem rõõm
  • vahingonilo on aidointa iloa, sillä siihen ei sisälly tippaakaan kateutta: ("schadenfreude is the most genuine kind of joy, since it doesn't include even a drop of envy").
  • Le malheur des uns fait le bonheur des autres proverb: "One person's misfortune is another's happiness". However, the equivalence here is inexact, as the proverb really means that only that one person would benefit from another's misfortune, not actually find pleasure in misfortune for its own sake. A better expression would be "Se réjouir du malheur d'autrui" ("to gloat")
  • אין שמחה כשמחה לאיד: "There is no joy like schadenfreude"
  • legszebb öröm a káröröm: "The most beautiful joy is the malicious joy."
  • Japanese, the phrase , translates literally as "others' misfortunes are the taste of honey."
  • 고소하다 gosohada, literally translated means "to smell sesame oil", because in Korea the smell of sesame oil is regarded as very pleasant, this phrase also is used when one is pleased about a particular event. It is especially used when one is pleased about an event involving the misfortune of another.
  • padan muka means "fits your face" but the more appropriate English translation is: "You got what you deserved";
  • skadefryd er den eneste sanne gleden "schadenfreude is the only true joy"
  • Portuguese: in Brazil, shadenfreude is usually descripted by expressions, slangs or informal explanations, as there is no spefific word in Brazilian vocabulary for this feeling. 'Pimenta nos olhos dos outros é refresco', 'Rir da desgraça dos outros' are the most used among Brazilians, meaning 'Pepper in another person eyes is delightful' and 'Laugh at others disgrace', respectively.
  • škodoradosť je najväčšia radosť "schadenfreude is the greatest joy"
  • skadeglädje är den enda sanna glädjen "schadenfreude is the only true joy"
  • สมน้ำหน้า som nam na, can be interpreted as: "You got what you deserved"; "Serves you right"; or "I'm laughing at your bad luck".

Similar terms in other languages

  • inat: (inat or inad, spite, ill will, resentment at others' fortune, pleasure from others' misfortune)
  • شماتة : shamaatah shamtan, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others)
  • злорадство: (зло, evil or harm, радост, joy)
  • (幸 enjoy[ing]; 災 [other's] calamity; 樂 be happy for/laugh at; 禍 [other's] misfortune/suffering)
  • currillos: (currillos, an exclamation of delight in others' misfortune)
  • zluradost: (zlo, evil, radost, joy)
  • škodolibost: (škoda, damage, harm, or loss, libost, pleasure)
  • skadefryd: skadefryd (skade, damage, injury or harm, fryd, glee)
  • leedvermaak: (leed, suffering or sorrow, and vermaak, entertainment)
  • malica ĝojo: (malica, wicked, and ĝojo, joy)
  • kahjurõõm: (kahju, damage or harm and rõõm, joy)
  • vahingonilo: (vahinko, accident or damage, ilo, joy)
  • שמחה לאיד:, joy, איד, misfortune, based on Proverbs 17:5) (simcha la'ed), also: " מתכבד בקלון חבירו " (see Mishneh Torah, the laws of Teshuvah chap. 4:4).
  • káröröm: (kár, loss or damage, öröm, joy)
  • danno piacere: (danno, damage, and piacere, enjoyment)
  • piktdžiuga: (piktas angry, džiaugsmas joy)
  • злорадост: (зло, evil or harm, радост, joy)
  • skadefryd: skadefryd (skade, damage, injury or harm, fryd, glee)
  • злорадство: (зло, evil or harm, радость, joy)
  • aighear millteach: (aighear, delight or joy, millteach, malicious or destructive)
  • злурадост/zluradost: (zlo, evil, radost, joy)
  • škodoradosť:(škoda, damage, harm, or loss, radosť, joy)
  • škodoželjnost : (škoda, damage, harm, or loss, želeti, to wish)
  • skadeglädje: (skada, damage, glädje, joy or happiness)
  • зловтіха: (зло, evil or harm, втіха, joy or happiness)

In popular culture

The word Schadenfreude became increasingly known in popular culture from the end of the 20th century. In 1991, during the animated comedy The Simpsons episode "When Flanders Failed", Lisa asks her father Homer if he's ever heard of schadenfreude after he expresses delight that their neighbour 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. 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

In the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q the song "Schadenfreude" parodies the language instruction songs of Sesame Street. 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. 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.

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," used the term "Skaddenfreude" to describe the delight that competitors of the Skadden law firm took in its troubles of the early 1990s. By 2007, the word was sufficiently well-established that neologisms were being coined from it. The legal blog coined the term "Skaddenfreude" (a portmanteau, combining the term "schadenfreude" with the name of prominent New York-based law firm Skadden Arps) as a label for the events surrounding the largely unanticipated decision by many of the nation's top-tier law firms to raise associate pay in 2007. Another portmanteau is "Spitzenfreude," coined by The Economist to refer to the fall of Eliot Spitzer.

In 2008, Lyons Press published a humorous book on the phenomenon: "Shadenfreude, Baby" by author Laura Lee. Science Fiction author John Scalzi developed what he calls the Schadenfreude Pie, to be enjoyed while "reveling in the horrible misfortunes of others." The recipe can be found on his blog, Whatever.

See also


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