Do you laugh at other people's misfortunes. Perhaps crack a grin at that banana skin? If so then you may have a strong sense of Schadenfreude.
The term is taken from the German Schaden which means 'harm' or 'damage' and Freude which means 'joy'. So by definition, Schadenfreude means finding joy in someone else's misfortune. Sounds good. In case you're wondering, nouns are always spelled with a capital letter in German, like proper nouns in English. Hence the capitalisation here, but you don't need to capitalise when using it in English. Or when speaking.
Also, in German words ending in 'e' are often pronounced as 'er', so we get shahd-n-froi-duh and you start sounding like Arnold in the gun shop scene,"Give me a shadenfreude 9mm and a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.. "
Now a lot of 'authorities' will claim that there's no English equivalent, but a bit of digging around on my part unearthed the wonderful epicaricacy which just rolls off the tongue. Sounding more like a malapropism for an appreciation of eating, it can also be spelled epicharikaky, which is more like the original Greek, epichairekakia. Fascinating stuff, although the kak is starting to sound a bit faecal and don't get me started on coprophagia..
So what of this 'malicious joy' or perhaps even sadism? At this point I will avoid becoming preachy about the pitfalls of laughing at other's downfalls. After all I do enjoy a good custard pie joke as much as the next
miscreant bloke. Those who know me will attest to my practical jokerage across the years. Sorry family. But I do believe schadenfreude refers to the darker tendency of enjoying seeing others fail or come off badly in a situation.
To me this suggests a certain character pathology or personal flaw, perhaps a low self-esteem or lack of confidence, to maliciously rejoice in seeing others fall. I wonder if it would extend to that satisfied feeling we get when some pain-in-the-arse gets their karmic come-uppance?
Now it gives me much joy to point out that you can't have your schaden without your freude and naturally he had a bit to say on the subject. In his book 'The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious' Sigmund Freud believed that very young children don't really have a sense of humour. What they have instead is a taste for gloating and triumph, which emerges in those rare moments that they feel superior to the adults around them. For instance the child will laugh out of a feeling of superiority or Schadenfreude - 'You've fallen down, I haven't.' It is the laughter of pure pleasure.
It's an interesting thought and well, no harm done. Which means it probably won't be a very enjoyable book for some..
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