As thousands of online reference guide users have recently learned, the dictionary defines “schadenfreude” as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.”
On Friday morning, Merriam-Webster reported a 30,500% increase in queries for the word following the revelation that Donald and Melania Trump had contracted COVID-19 — which, of course, came after months of the White House’s insufficient and ineffective response to the pandemic.
The archaic term, with origins dating back as far as the late 18th century, literally combines the German words for “damage” or “harm” (“schaden”) and “joy” (“freude”).
Used in a sentence, one might say, “I’m struck by schadenfreude when I consider my annoying neighbor’s car getting crushed by the 12-foot-tall skeleton they put in their front yard.” Or perhaps, “Donald Trump getting the same illness he failed to protect our nation from gives me a feeling of schadenfreude.”
When written, schadenfreude is often capitalized — in German, all nouns are. That said, when used in English, the capitalization of Schadenfreude is a matter of style.
The 25¢ word (a price point we should really consider in this economy) has cropped up across social media platforms and search engines in the past 48 hours.
Use it as a search term pretty much anywhere and you’ll unleash a vitriolic torrent of accusations, anger, and — why, yes — schadenfreude! The condensed version can best be summarized by a recent Mashable headline: “Trump announced he has COVID-19, so of course, Twitter descended into chaos.” Yep. Chaos.
Messy, sad, and genuinely pretty funny, no situation has even been more fitting of the often misapplied word. Good luck out there, feeler of emotions. Schadenfreude is a fickle mistress.