The Surprising History of Schadenfreude

The Amazing History of Schadenfreude



Have you ever found yourself on YouTube having a good chuckle at fail compilations?

Be it somebody crashing out hilariously on a skateboard, a toddler running obliviously into a glass door, or a cat missing a jump by a mile and falling to a fate of embarrassing laughter – we’re all one for a good laugh at these things and many more.

However, the Germans have a specific word for this feeling.

Well, they do and it’s called Schadenfreude.

The feeling of Schadenfreude is when you experience pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction which comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, humiliation, or failures of another.

So, for example, I could say that I experienced pure Schadenfreude watching the German soccer team get trounced by the South Korean soccer team at the 2018 World Cup, resulting in their exit at the Group Stage when defending their title.

Schadenfreude is a compound word made up of the two German words “Schaden,” meaning “damage” or “harm,” and “Freude,” meaning “joy.”

So literally translated into English the word means “harm-joy.”

The origins of the word.

The word originally spans back to German texts from the 1740’s, and wasn’t mentioned in English texts until 1852 and then later 1867.

Though Schadenfreude has equivalents in other languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, there is no commonly used precise English equivalent.

There is a direct equivalent borrowed from Greek which is “Epicaricacy,” although this is relatively unknown and unused by English speakers.

The phrase “Roman holiday” is also used to describe the scenario.

“Roman holiday” comes from Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, in which a gladiator in Ancient Rome expects to be “butchered to make a Roman holiday,” contemplating how the gladiatorial audience would take pleasure in watching his suffering.

Whilst Schadenfreude can be sadistic, it can mostly be light entertainment – nothing as sinister as a “Roman holiday.”


So there you have it people; the next time you and your friends are watching YouTube and see somebody fall off a rope swing or when you next see somebody jump out their skin at a scary prank, make sure to tell people that their laughter is Schadenfreude in action!

About The Author

Jack De Graaf
Jack De Graaf

Jack De Graaf is a BA English Studies graduate and a part-time writer. In his spare time he likes to read and do circus skills. He enjoys writing about video games, television and general knowledge.

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