Freudenfreude: Why we should all embrace this made-up German word

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected] • 1 Dec, 2022 Updated Thu 1 Dec 2022 21:49 CEST
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'Freudenfreude' could mean being happy for your in-love friends, like this couple in spring in Berlin, even if you've just gone through a break up. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The term 'Freudenfreude' was recently identified by mistake as a German word. Here's why that is not such a bad thing.

The German word Schadenfreude - or joy at another person's misfortune - is widely used in the English-speaking world, where it was adopted over 150 years ago. But its opposite, Freudenfreude, is a new, and somewhat accidental, invention.

On November 25th, a San Francisco-based psychologist penned an article for the New York Times on how we need more Freudenfreude - a supposedly commonly used German word meaning joy at the happiness of another person, even if we don't share that same happiness ourselves. 

A few international media outlets then heralded the “German“ concept, until the word got out (quite literally) in Germany. Some scorned the author’s mistake, while others praised her for inadvertently enriching die deutsche Sprache

“Since language is something that's very much alive, you can always be happy when a new word appears somewhere,“ wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung. 

The Munich-based newspaper pointed out how other now-popular German words "took a while until they were finally widely used” - and then were often incorporated into other languages' vernaculars when they lacked a similar word.

READ ALSO: '6 German words I now use in English'

Let’s face it: sometimes to sum up a concept in English (or Spanish or Slovenian or whatever our language) we need a word in German, even if it doesn’t exist yet. 

The now ubiquitous Wanderlust, a desire for travel, or Zeitgeist, spirit of the times, were also once made-up words that could only be neatly described by placing two German nouns together.

The same goes for Freudenfreude. Sure, we have "empathy", but that also could mean feeling someone‘s pain during a sad moment, not just their joy during good times. Otherwise, we could say we're happy for someone, but why use three words when it can be so neatly summed up in one?

We still don't have a single, snappy word that describes when your good friend passes the important test you failed a week ago, and you still feel proud that she’s making progress. Or that feeling that even though life is not going right for you right now, someone else's success shows that it still can.

A few days after the New York Times article was published, the newspaper ran a correction on the article that Freudenfreude is not a German word.

But by that point, it was already on the path to becoming one.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt

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Rachel Stern 2022/12/01 21:49

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