Thursday, July 8, 2010


Schadenfreude is widely used as a loanword in English and translates to "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others" (German Schade: injury, damage + Freude: happiness).

I was thinking this morning about what the antonym of schadenfreude would be. Here's what Wikipedia had to say:

« 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, which is 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. »

I found this excerpt from Wikipedia was quite interesting, and I agree with most of it, except for the suggestion that envy is the best word to describe unhappiness in someone else's good fortune. (I think that envy belongs in a slightly different category because it carries additional implications about the relationship between the subject and the cause of the object's happiness, right?) And thus began the quest to find an appropriate term in the English language.*

The closest words I can think of, at least for the moment, are grudgingness and resentment. But even these terms, though similar, seem a bit too broad; their definitions encompass more than the unhappiness derived from the fortune of others.

The same Wikipedia article then states, "The transposed variant freudenschade seems to have been multiply invented to mean sorrow at another person's success."

Somewhat surprisingly, this word does not exist in the German language, even though this compound term, like schadenfreude, would be a logical, correctly structured German-style noun―happiness-damage instead of damage-happiness. And since both English and German seem to lack a precise term to describe unhappiness or damage from others' good fortune, why not use freudenschade?

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
- Mark Twain