Schadenfreude is regularly trotted out as a classic example of an “untranslatable” German word, but is it? I don’t believe schadenfreude is uniquely German and can think of many ways to express it in English without borrowing the German word: I might gloat over a bullying co-worker’s dismissal, for example, or behave less than charitably toward him out of pure spite, to use two beautifully idiomatic English words. Flipping the perspective can also be a solution: If you feel schadenfreude because I suffered a misfortune, you might also say that I got my comeuppance or just desserts.


1 Comment

  1. Scott Ellsworth on January 4, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Yes, good point. I think that “gloating” is pretty similar. “Joy at someone’s misfortune” seems even more exact. I can think of a number of German words that are not usually translated into English-language equivalents, and it seems strange to me that they are typically left untranslated: Kaiser, Autobahn, Luftwaffe, Reich, etc. Perhaps people are just trying to hang on to some cultural mystique. But the same happens the other way around: Words from English are used in German even when perfectly good local equivalents exist.

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