Even if you don’t know what schadenfreude means, chances are you’ve experienced it at least once in your life. Maybe when your annoying coworker fell out of his chair. Maybe when your know-it-all classmate got a bad mark on a test. Maybe when your loud neighbors got their power cut off. If you’ve ever felt joy when something bad happened to someone else, you’ve experienced schadenfreude.
What Does Schadenfreude Mean?
It’s obvious that schadenfreude is not an English word—it’s German, and it’s made up of the words Schaden, which means “harm” or “damage,” and Freude, which means “joy.” By definition, schadenfreude means finding joy in someone else’s misfortune.
Because schadenfreude is a German word, pronouncing it might seem tricky, even though it’s not. You do it like this: [shahd-n-froi-duh].
How to Use Schadenfreude
Because schadenfreude has a very narrow and precise meaning, you shouldn’t have any problems using it in a sentence. Simply use it when you want to describe in one word the feeling it represents.
You might sometimes see schadenfreude spelled with a capital S. Nouns are always spelled with a capital letter in German, but we don’t have that rule in English. You don’t have to spell it with a capital letter.
It can be argued that there’s no real synonym for schadenfreude in English. That’s the reason the word was adopted in the first place. There is a Greek word—epicaricacy—that means roughly the same thing as schadenfreude, but it’s not very likely you’ll come across it outside a list of obscure words. Epicaricacy can also be spelled epicharikaky, which is closer to the original Greek epichairekakia.
But even if there are no single-word noun synonyms for schadenfreude, it doesn’t mean that people haven’t been experiencing the sensation and talking about it before the word was introduced to English speakers. “Malicious joy” is one way to describe schadenfreude, as is the verb “gloat” when used in the correct context.
Here’s an interesting thing to think about—if you say that schadenfreude is finding joy in other people’s misfortune, what would the opposite of it be? Not finding joy in other people’s misfortune? Finding joy in other people’s good fortune? Feeling misfortunate because of other people’s misfortune? Or maybe being unhappy about other people’s good fortune? Depending on what you think the opposite of schadenfreude is, its antonyms could be anything from sympathetic joy and empathy to envy. What do you think?
Examples of Schadenfreude
They should have expected this of course, and it doesn’t stop the show from being brilliant schadenfreude. —The Independent
The whole evening was a delightful swirl of parody, friendly ribbing and schadenfreude. —TIME
Shkreli had inspired a wave of pure, unadulterated schadenfreude. —The Washington Post
Amanat’s arrest triggered considerable schadenfreude. —Fortune