Amidst all the conmotion caused by the recent financial meltdown in the US and Europe the linguistic pedant in me has only had time to focus on one particular word that has been bandied about in newspapers both in the USA and GB. Never uttered by broadcasters or newsreaders, this word has had more cameo appearances in the written press than 'Joe' from 'Friends' has had leading roles since the famous show wrapped up.
Schadenfreude has been defined by the online dictionary I regularly default to as 'enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else.' Always capitalized, as are all other nouns in the German language, this term is totally apposite to how the majority of the population feels towards the bankers responsible for so much turmoil, otherwise known as... (and here, the reader might want to insert a British slang term that rhymes with the aforementioned profession, and which yours truly is loath to reproduce in print for fear of offending the well-meaning folk who visit these cyber-shores). On talking to other people about this 'completely-out-of-the-blue economic crisis' (Ha! Who are they kidding?) the feeling I get from them is one of largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of these merchants of doom.
The word Schadenfreude is a linguistic beauty. Derived from the German Schaden (damage, harm) and Freude (joy), this term carries a heavy sadistic meaning inside it and yet you wouldn't notice it. The 'sch' sound cushions the brutal impact of such strong definition. However, before our Teutonic friends get a bit too 'fröhlich' about this latest Anglo-Saxon-German encounter (and without a penalty shoot-out in sight, would you believe it!) I must warn them that there is a word in the English language that means almost the same.
Epicaricacy is derived from the Greek and it first made its debut in Nathan Bailey's 18th-century Universal Etymological English Dictionary. It used to be spelled Epicharikaky but with the passing of time its ortography changed to what it is today. Its history tells us that it is a compound word made up of the Greek words epi (upon), chaira (joy), and kakon (evil).
Brushing aside reports that apparently people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude (notice the non-capitalisation in English) than are people who have high self-esteem (no, me neither), lately I have found myself struggling to sympathise with those who play Russian roulette with our mortgages and finances. I know that it is my duty to feel compassion for my kinfolk in times of distress and yet the only maxim that comes to mind is that of Nietzsche when he said 'Lachen heißt: schadenfroh sein, aber mit gutem Gewissen': "Humour is just Schadenfreude with a clear conscience."
Now, that's a piece of advice I am willing to follow, how about you?
Image taken from http://www.cartoonstock.com/