“Schadenfreude is in the Zeitgeist, but Is There an Opposite Term?” by Ben Cohen. The Wall Street Journal, 6/13/2015.
Schadenfreude is one of my favorite words because of it’s meaning, certainly not from its spelling which trips me up every time. As most of us know, it is experiencing pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. It comes directly from German, just as they use it. If that is the thought you want to express, you’ve got to use that word. Nothing else comes close.
(Zeitgeist also comes directly from German, often capitalized as all nouns are in German. It means the general culture of a particular time and place.)
The WSJ article claims schadenfreude became popular in America after a 1991 episode of The Simpsons. Homer is overjoyed when neighbor Ned Flanders’ store for left-handed items fails, and daughter Lisa tells him he should be ashamed of his schadenfreude. “Oh, come on, Lisa,” says Homer. “I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt.”
But what is the word for the opposite of schadenfreude, when we feel pain for someone else’s pleasure? That is also a common emotion, and there is an unofficial word for it: gluckschmertz. It sounds German, but it is not. It was made up in 2012 and published on the Internet in an academic paper. It was immediately criticized, but no one has come up with anything better, so that is still what we have. All of the words we use were made up by someone sometime, so why not one more?
In the Simpsons episode, Lisa suggests “sour-grapes” as the opposite of schadenfreude.