Gluckschmerz.

Yesterday’s WSJ has an enjoyable column by Ben Cohen describing a word, or quasi-word, or pseudo-word, that was new to me:

There are few words in any language as fun to say as schadenfreude.

Its etymology is easy to understand. Schadenfreude, the pleasure in someone else’s pain, comes from the German words for those exact emotions.

But people can also take pain in someone else’s pleasure. Why isn’t there a word for that?

It turns out there is. Scholars have finally found a linguistic relative of schadenfreude, and it sounds like another German portmanteau: gluckschmerz.

Except it isn’t.

“It’s not an actual word in the German language,” says University of Kentucky psychologist Richard Smith. “You won’t find it in any German dictionary.”

It turns out that it’s sort of existed—in English, not German—for three decades, and there’s a kicker at the end that I’ll let you discover for yourself. Once upon a time I would have been irritated at the attempt to foist yet another cutesy non-word on the long-suffering English language, which has plenty of actual resources with which to describe emotions, but I’ve mellowed, and if people enjoy this sort of thing, more power to them, may they have—as they don’t say in German—Wortschatzfälschungfreude. (Thanks, Bruce!)

Comments

  1. “Wortschatzfälschungfreude”. That’s a good one, absolutely idiomatic in the composition ! It’s a bit esoteric, but so is the subject (to non-Wortwertschätzer).

  2. “That’s not a real German word,” Dr. Cikara was told. “But if it were, then the ‘u’ should have an umlaut.”

    Not so. There’s another way to parse Gluckschmerz – “pain when clucking like a hen”. Compare Schluckschmerz = pain when swallowing.

  3. That’s a good one, absolutely idiomatic in the composition !

    I’m absurdly proud of that, since my German is sadly underdeveloped.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Gluck is also the noise of drinking.

    “Wortschatzfälschungfreude”. That’s a good one, absolutely idiomatic in the composition !

    Yes, except that it needs a Fugen-s. The prefix form of words in -ung is generally -ungs- for really muddled reasons. 🙂

  5. Not so. There’s another way to parse Gluckschmerz – “pain when clucking like a hen”.

    Can’t wait to see this one illustrated for a listicle.

  6. Yes, except that it needs a Fugen-s.

    Dammit, I wondered about that, but I figured if Schadenfreude didn’t have one, why should Wortschatzfälschungfreude?

    *mutters angrily about the awful German language*

  7. Gluckschmerz in English is just revenge for the torrent of made-up English words in German speech. When I’ve picked up work correcting German–English translations made by Germans, nothing gets my goat like having to replace hundreds of instances of oldtimer with classic car, etc. Incidentally, Mouton de Gruyter recently released a collection on continental misuse of our beloved tongue, Pseudo-English
    Studies on False Anglicisms in Europe.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve said it before, that English is the productive part of all living languages. Except English, my son countered recently, where it’s French. But maybe it’s German.

  9. The Hebrew expression for Schadenfreude, שמחה לאיד /simˈxa leˈʔeid/ in Israeli Hebrew, is oddly not a German calque, but has its origins in Proverbs 17:5, לֹעֵג לָרָשׁ חֵרֵף עֹשֵׂהוּ; שָׂמֵחַ לְאֵיד לֹא יִנָּקֶה “Who mocks the poor insults his maker; who revels in strife will not be absolved.” (my translation. It actually scans like the Hebrew!)

  10. : I’ve said it before, that English is the productive part of all living languages.

    I would say the productive part of Korandjé is Arabic. Then again, its expected life span is not large…

  11. The productive part of English is Australian.

  12. Australia is the tween-to-early-twenties woman of the Anglophone world.

  13. tangent says:

    I love that the WSJ did an illustration, in their style, of Homer Simpson.

  14. Yes, except that it needs a Fugen-s. The prefix form of words in -ung is generally -ungs- for really muddled reasons.

    True, but I didn’t want to damn his praise with faint punctilio.

    For all, in re u-umlaut or not: “glucken” is to cluck (as a hen does), “glucksen” denotes swallowing noises, or certain sounds such as gurgling, or the burbling/babbling of a brook etc.

  15. Mouton de Gruyter recently released a collection on continental misuse of our beloved tongue, Pseudo-English
    Studies on False Anglicisms in Europe.

    To the tune of $133 per copy.

  16. So, to native speakers of German, would “Glückschmerz”, with the umlaut, be a possible/grammatical German word with the intended meaning? Or is there any other problem with it, grammatical or lexical or idiomatic?

  17. Hebrew has lefargen for taking joy in someone else’s success. It’s of Yiddish origins.

  18. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Sounds a lot like the Polish word zawiść, which describes a darker, more destructive and hateful brand of envy (zazdrość). Definitely connected to “glückschmerz”-y states of mind.

  19. To the tune of $133 per copy.

    > Hear about an interesting book
    > It’s an order of magnitude too expensive

    What’s the German word for tfw?

  20. fisheyed says:

    To the tune of $133 per copy.

    ahem

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Dammit, I wondered about that, but I figured if Schadenfreude didn’t have one, why should Wortschatzfälschungfreude?

    The rules for this are only developing; regional variation and even individual uncertainty abounds. One rule was recently discovered; it applies in about 2/3 of the cases.

    English is the productive part of all living languages.

    It’s a bit like the Japanese compounds of Chinese loans…

  22. Hebrew has lefargen for taking joy in someone else’s success. It’s of Yiddish origins.

    Discussed here last year. (It’s from Yiddish farginen, from German vergönnen.)

  23. So, to native speakers of German, would “Glückschmerz”, with the umlaut, be a possible/grammatical German word with the intended meaning?

    The German construction leaves the interpretation of the relationship between the two morphs up to the hearer, who has to make a calculation of likelihood for the various possible relationships. Genitive is usually the most likely, but the relationship can be any preposition and some other constructions too..

    So the likeliest meaning would be “the agony of good luck/fortune”, one’s own rather than another’s. Only if “Glückschmerz” becomes a meme would “pain at someone else’s good luck” become the more likely interpretation.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    ^ I agree with all this; I managed to overlook Paul’s comment earlier.

  25. Ah, I see! Thanks for the explanation, Gary.

  26. Gluckschmerz – “pain when clucking like a hen”

    That explains why my wife hits me when I do it!
    (And she majored in French!!)

  27. When I read the heading, I thought it was about pain suffered when listening to this guy’s music…

  28. What’s wrong with Freudenschade? It works for me 😉

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Freudenschaden would be the damage caused by joy(s)…

  30. Schadenfreude is happiness at someone’s unhappiness. If we need a word for unhappiness at someone’s happiness, we find one readymade: Mißgunst.

  31. That got me to look up Gunst, which is related to gönnen (from Old High German giunnan), which is related to Middle English i-unne (last seen in the 13th century), and I discovered the OED has just updated the entries for i-unne and the base verb unne (both meaning ‘grant, bestow, give, allow’), From the latter:

    Etymology: Cognate with Old Dutch unnan (in a runic inscription; Middle Dutch onnen), Old Saxon unnan (only in past participle gionsta), Old High German unnan, unnen (Middle High German unnen; in modern German only in the prefixed verb gönnen: see i-unne v.), Old Icelandic unna (Icelandic unna, weak verb), Old Swedish unna (Swedish unna, weak verb), Old Danish unnæ (Danish unde, weak verb) < a Germanic preterite-present verb (of Class III); further etymology uncertain and disputed: see note below.

    Although no cognate verb is attested in Gothic, the noun ansts love, affection (see este n.) is probably formed from an ablaut variant of the same Germanic base.

    For other verbs of the preterite-present class in English compare can v.1, dare v.1, dow v.1, may v.1, mone v., mote v.1, owe v., shall v., tharf v., wit v.1 Compare also i-unne v.

    Ulterior etymology.

    Various suggestions have been offered with regard to the ulterior etymology, but all pose formal or semantic problems: see e.g. E. Seebold Vergleichendes u. etymol. Wörterbuch der germanischen starken Verben (1970) 80 (who suggests a relationship with ancient Greek ὀνινάναι to profit, benefit (a person or thing), to gladden (a person’s heart), of uncertain origin); A. Bammesberger in North-Western European Language Evolution 34 (1998) 15–21 (who suggests a derivation from the same Indo-European base as ancient Greek νεῖσθαι to return home: see nostos n.).

    Form history.

    The conjugational paradigm in English remains relatively stable, although some levelling of forms is evidenced in late Old English and early Middle English, with the present plural stem unn– tending to predominate (compare e.g. variant reading in quot. c1275 at sense 1c, quot. c1325 at sense 2a, and also quot. OE2 at i-unne v.); see also discussion at i-unne v. The attested (early Middle English) imperative forms are in origin subjunctive (for the original imperative compare geunn at i-unne v. Forms); occasional singular forms with apparent inorganic final –n have sometimes been alternatively interpreted as evidence for a jussive infinitive in Middle English. The early Middle English past tense singular form uðen (from the Caligula MS of Laȝamon’s Brut) shows nunnation, a very common feature of the language of this text in this MS, which has not been satisfactorily explained.

    In Old English the prefixed form geunnan[,] i-unne v.[,] is also attested; compare also ofunnan to begrudge, to be unwilling to grant or allow (compare of– prefix).

    I love strong verbs and preterite-present verbs and irregular conjugations, and I wish English had hung onto this verb.

  32. The obsolete noun este ‘good pleasure, favour, grace; pleasure, delight’ (Old English ést, feminine) is equivalent to German Gunst, though with a different base and no prefix.

    OE Beowulf 3075 Hæfde Agendes est ær gesceawod.
    a1440 Sir Eglam. 904 Make we mery for Goddys est.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe it’s a particular grace to be Estonian. 🙂

  34. “You wit well all that we will and unn”, says Henry III in the grammatically and orthographically, but not lexically, modernized version I made of his 1258 proclamation, issued in Latin, French and (for the first and last time for many centuries) English.

    OT: I have rewritten the logic that generates the “Recently Commented-on Language Hat Posts” page, and it now contains entries for all 5232 posts that actually have comments (out of 5467 total), modulo some possible glitches in the recent past. The word “Recently” should probably be dropped at this point!

    As a side effect of this work, I now once again have a complete LH archive of posts and comments up through June 14, 2015 (“The Beasts at Ephesus” is the last available post), and can answer statistical questions with ease. For example, the post with the most comments is “A Draft of Mandelstam” (752 comments!), but the median number of comments is only 14 (and there are 92 posts with 14 comments).

  35. OK, John, since you have so much time on your hands: Which discussion has stretched out for the longest time (aside from occasional return visits)? Who are the most prolific commentators, in posts or in words per post? Which discussion had the most first-time participants?

  36. Some of these questions are answered in my notes on the October 2013 archive, which I no longer have (it was made in case it turned out to be impossible to convert LH from Movable Type directly). But distinguishing a slow-motion conversation from “return visits” would be difficult, unless someone wants to propose a quantitative measure for this. Likewise, the number of ad hoc pseudonyms (to say nothing of Khrun and his 1300+ names) makes it difficult to identify genuine first-time participants.

    There are now 135,317 comments.

  37. How about the longest stretch of time in which the first 90% of the comments on a post have occurred?

  38. The word “Recently” should probably be dropped at this point!

    Consider it done.

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