If you’ve followed the Charlie Sheen media phenomenon, here’s a word you may want to know

Charlie Sheen’s debaucherous behavior and bizarre diatribes have made him the tabloid darling of the moment. There’s an “I can’t look, but I can’t not look” mentality around all-too-frequent celebrity meltdowns. If you  find yourself watching other people self-destruct then you may be more familiar with the term “Schadenfreude” than you think. What does this German word have to do with one’s insatiable need for tabloid fodder?

Schadenfreude is a loanword – a word that has been borrowed from another language (in this case, German) and is derived from schaden (harm) and freude (joy). Schaden is derived from the Middle High German schade and is a cognate – words having a common etymological origin – with the English “scathe.”

The exact definition of Schadenfreude is “the satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.” There is a distinction between a “secret Schadenfreude,” harboring a private feeling, and an “open Schadenfreude,” a public display of ridicule.

An English expression used to capture a similar sentiment is “Roman Holiday” – a metaphor from a poem by George Gordon, commonly known as Lord Byron, entitled “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” – which describes the sadistic enjoyment felt by an audience upon watching a gladiator suffer.

Mudita, a Buddhist concept meaning “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune”, is perhaps the exact opposite of Schadenfreude.

You may have noticed the capitalization of “S” in Schadenfreude.  For the purpose of this post, German nouns always begin with a capital letter. When adopted as a loanword it is not capitalized unless the origin is being emphasized.


  1. Vicki Londerville -  February 3, 2014 - 3:34 pm

    Does anyone know the German nonsense word Rose used to define the guilt one sometimes experiences with their schadenfreude?

    • Kweinuwa -  August 1, 2014 - 6:23 am

      I’m pretty sure the spelling is way off but it was something like “glaukenschtoken”.

  2. bob joe mcfreddy-fred-fred -  June 13, 2013 - 9:48 am

    my 9th grade history teacher uses this word a lot!

  3. Rico KG -  October 14, 2011 - 7:17 am


  4. max power -  August 12, 2011 - 9:00 am

    what is the word Rose uses as i believe feeling bad you had schadenfreude? or not feeling bad you took pleasure at someones misfortune. i was super stoned last night when the re-run was on. or was it the night before…..? anyway. anyhelp would be awesome.

  5. Silverchild -  March 8, 2011 - 8:32 am

    So, this is the name of what every Greek feels for his neighbour!

  6. Dobson -  March 7, 2011 - 11:29 pm

    It’s hard to say what is going on. How much of this is acting? There is a sense of mutual exploitation about this. Perhaps Charlie Sheen knows his situation is desperate, but is using his position to exploit the public curiosity, or, depending on your point of view, gullibility. I think people watch to see what will happen next, because he is unpredictable and there is a sense that something shocking will happen ‘any minute now.’ His behaviour does not follow social norms.
    You don’t get paid to watch, but you do get paid to perform.

  7. John -  March 7, 2011 - 11:53 am

    Would I use “Schadenfreude” to describe the compulsion to look at a traffic accident?

  8. madileno -  March 7, 2011 - 10:49 am

    hahahahahah….its sad that such a great actor can turn out like this. sad but funny sad but funny…..and true

  9. Jan -  March 7, 2011 - 8:56 am

    I was just going to stick with “morbid curiosity” to describe my need to read and view his crazy rantings.
    Poor Charlie. What a waste. He’s ruining his life and that’s his prerogative, but what he’s doing to his children and his fellow cast members is shameful. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but Two and a Half Men is(was) quite possibly my favorite show. And did we not all experience “Schadenfreude” at poor Alan’s expense over and over and over again? : )

  10. Gray -  March 7, 2011 - 8:38 am

    I suppose that schaudenfreude is a cousin to rubbernecking, even though rubbernecking isn’t all about finding satisfaction in someone else’s misfortune. That’s why I said they are cousins. :P

  11. Jake -  March 7, 2011 - 8:24 am

    That word isn’t even close, I don’t take satisfaction and joy in watching him suffer, Intrigued in the grotesque more than anything.

  12. Michael -  March 7, 2011 - 8:24 am

    This dialogue is very relevant to the disgusting status of mass media; all based on ratings. Thank you.

  13. Kat -  March 7, 2011 - 7:30 am

    Melanie Klein, the early 20th century psychoanalyst, writes about envy being a core human characteristic that leads to jealousy, and I suspect, to Schadenfreude. What is it in me that gives me guilty pleasure when I observe the suffering of another – especially someone with power, fame and money? I ask myself, how would I react to Charlie Sheen’s media projections if I didn’t have envy? I would be in my own life, with my own strengths and limitations and with little interest in him – his success or his downfall. Nonetheless, I would have compassion for all of us in our strange humanity. Schadenfreude would dissolve.

  14. Philosophe -  March 7, 2011 - 7:09 am

    Perhaps it’s more voyeurism than Schadenfreude.

  15. the _Truth -  March 7, 2011 - 6:50 am

    most people see Charlie Sheen actions as despicable,stupid, and shameful but i have to say did we not see this coming who could blame him for his actions because after all we made him

  16. louis paiz -  March 7, 2011 - 5:41 am

    mudada is renewal so to see someone come out in new cloths is pleasing or satisfactory to the senses. in one word happy to see that you are doing well. shadenfreude in the other hand we despise our own creation for sample with charlie we applaude him in the show where he does exactly the same he was doing in real life but condemn the reallity.’we soil the mirrow and then complain because is durty’

  17. annapurna -  March 7, 2011 - 5:40 am

    The word “News” in Sanskrit comes very close to “mudita” in essence. “Samvada” is made of two parts, “Sam” which means “together” and “vada” which means sound, or resonance. The word means “resonating together.” It is said that when several string instruments in one room are tuned to exactly the same scale, and one string in one of them is stuck, that string in others also reverberate. So those of you who have stopped watching news because it is too cruel and insensitive, you could say that news is not news in at least one sense. It is striking a wrong chord.

  18. Andrew -  March 7, 2011 - 5:33 am

    AKA, a train wreck.

  19. austin -  March 7, 2011 - 2:17 am

    I am ecstatic @ the very pronunciation of the word. It really gives me a great joy! Using the word gives this feeling of a foreign language acumen.

  20. colbey -  March 7, 2011 - 1:47 am

    RE: TXBLUE, Schipperke, & Rampaw

    like schip & ram, i’ve been trying to think of a word for this too. (long before charlie melted down.)

    it’s not Schadenfreude, as i don’t derive pleasure in any way. at least, none that i can discern, and after reading this page i’ve looked critically at my reactions.

    and it’s not that i feel pity or compassion either. it’s not like when people ogle at a car wreck, which often seems to be a “thank god i’m okay” thing. (if one is being generous.)

    i told a friend that it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck. (i was referring to reading the comments after articles on sites like yahoo news.) it’s appalling, it’s horrifying…yet i can’t look away. it’s not that i’m happy about it. it’s not that i’m thinking, “whew. thank god it’s not me.”

    but it’s about witnessing a horrible thing, about which you can do nothing in the moment. you can’t stop it; you can’t save those involved. but you can’t look away. okay, there’s probably a tiny bit of pity, but not compassion in the way i think TXBlue meant.

    so what word describes feeling compelled to be a witness to a great tragedy?

  21. Melody -  March 7, 2011 - 1:41 am

    Schadenfreude…Schadenfreude…Fantastic word Dictionary.com, love it! Yeah, I always loved those words that have that little “extraordinariness” in them! Like really long ones…like schizophrenia and homogeneity! I even like supercalafragilisticexpialidocious! Long words rock my heart! Even extraordinariness sounds cool…that’s why I used it! And now I have Schadenfreude to add to it all! Great! Loved the word :)

    Thanks for everything Dictionary.com. These are really interesting posts, and best of all, I get to improve my vocabulary! (Although my automatic spellcheck doesn’t recognize that word!) Yeah, I have a spellcheck, it was installed when I first got Google Chrome, my current browser.


  22. Rowan -  March 7, 2011 - 1:09 am

    I love how this brings out the Holier-Than-Thou types. The downfall of society…? Get real.

  23. DonFad -  March 7, 2011 - 12:34 am

    To quote the article:
    There’s an “I can’t look, but I can’t not look” mentality around all-too-frequent celebrity meltdowns. If you find yourself watching other people self-destruct then you may be more familiar with the term “Schadenfreude” than you think.

    Personally I don’t think schadenfreude is the right word for this situation, because schadenfreude implies “pleasure”.
    I don’t get any pleasure from Charlie Sheen’s position, it’s the same as a car crash “I see it, I think I’m glad it’s not me” but I don’t gain pleasure from seeing it.

    Anyone got any other suggestions for “the car crash (and you don’t like it)” situation?

    I’m sure there is one.

  24. LittleMissLee -  March 6, 2011 - 10:33 pm

    Make that…”The Hot Word” … Sorry ;-P

  25. LittleMissLee -  March 6, 2011 - 10:31 pm

    I think I learn more from “The Hotword” than I do from school. ;-P

  26. ... -  March 6, 2011 - 10:27 pm


  27. Aimee -  March 6, 2011 - 9:02 pm

    I think the phrase Train Wreck really applies here…

  28. Against Parfilage -  March 6, 2011 - 8:26 pm

    No, the correct term is “morbid curiosity.”
    “Schadenfreude” doesn’t describe the feeling of being compelled to look at a wreck, unless one is inwardly cheering in response.

  29. Ladyg -  March 6, 2011 - 5:12 pm

    I seriously thought the answer will be “train wreck”

  30. The Urge -  March 5, 2011 - 11:33 pm

    I’ve never heard of mudita before, that’s such a cute concept.

  31. Chris -  March 5, 2011 - 10:22 pm

    So kind of a cousin to sadism

  32. Hmm -  March 5, 2011 - 9:39 pm

    Isn’t that another word for sadists?
    LOL :P

  33. Steph -  March 5, 2011 - 8:49 pm

    Who needs stuff like this?

  34. Margaret -  March 5, 2011 - 7:46 pm

    I feel sad to see someone in this kind of state of mind. No amount of money is going to bring him joy. I feel sorry for him being away from what real goodness he could have in life and what way does he have to go but down. I don’t want to see that for him or his children, family and friends. I pray he sees the light. The reason AA works is that it teaches people that there is a higher power and that higher power is not Charlie Sheen. He misses the boat here to say that he has solved his problems all by himself…. what?

  35. Mu -  March 5, 2011 - 7:30 pm

    Celebral meltdown. What celebrities have when they get on the powder for toooo long.

  36. Pinki -  March 5, 2011 - 5:51 pm

    I don’t like Charlie Sheen, and not much of a (celebrity) gossiper, but I always just read the news :) @Dina Santorelli: Yes, it’s supposed to be capitalized. Lol =D

  37. LES -  March 5, 2011 - 4:24 pm

    I feel very bad for him , ythou i have no idea what’s going on as i’m not following it . tHOU I HEAR TALK AT WORK.

  38. TXBLUE -  March 5, 2011 - 3:28 pm

    Schipperke~ The word you are looking for is “compassion”.

  39. SmartBlonde -  March 5, 2011 - 2:43 pm

    @ Rampaw
    I don’t know if there is a word for getting no pleasure from the pain of others but there should be because I feel the same way you do. “Candid Camera” bothered me and there were quite a few other shows in the Fifties that encouraged people to look foolish on national tv by dangling a carrot (some sort of prize) before them. It’s too easy to say they agreed to do it or signed a release afterwards, as with “Candid Camera” because we know they were coerced if not pressured and we don’t know if they regretted it. I would imagine many of them later felt they’d been exploited and the money they got didn’t make up for the pain and embarrassment they experienced.

    Similarly, a lot of “Jerry’s kids” resent his exploitation of them on his telethons, though he’s not asking people to laugh at them. He’s asking people to pity them, and he cries and carries on about how sad it is that they are abnormal, which is a lousy thing to do to kids, as bad if not worse than making jokes about their disabilities. I could never stand watching the telethons though I didn’t know quite why when I was a kid. When some of the grown “poster kids” started speaking out about it some years ago he said that “cripples should stay home if they don’t want to be pitied.” Yet people think he’s a humanitarian…

    There’s a lot of sickness in the way we treat other members of our species.

  40. Stranger -  March 5, 2011 - 1:47 pm

    Ironically enough, I have heard that word, “Schadenfreude” before–on the show Two and a Half Men! Funny it’s now being used to describe the main character of that show…

  41. Thansa -  March 5, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    I’m don’t feel sympathy nor feel sad for someone who knows that his bad behaviour brings him millions. Sorry.

  42. Liza with a Z -  March 5, 2011 - 12:20 pm

    Upon hearing the pronounciation, it sounds like a word Mel Brooks would use…..

  43. CKT -  March 5, 2011 - 11:34 am

    It’s the same as watching a bad car wreck, with mangled metal, mangled bodies and blood. You’re just glad it wasn’t you.

  44. Small Potatoes -  March 5, 2011 - 10:47 am

    Interestingly, Rose explained Schadenfreude on an episode of “Two and a Half Men.”

  45. Just Annie -  March 5, 2011 - 9:55 am

    I agree with the sentiment of “getting no pleasure from the pain of others”…I too can’t stand reality shows and hate “practical jokes” being played on others. I think this is disgusting and cruel. And then we have the need to put them on TV for the world to make fun off. This is and example of the type of thing that will contribute to the downfall of our society.

  46. lindzel -  March 5, 2011 - 9:49 am

    @M Hahahaha the only reason I know the word Schadenfreude is because of Avenue Q!

  47. elissasangi -  March 5, 2011 - 9:46 am

    Thank you for the explanations of these words, that’s why I LOVE this site so much. As for Charlie, I agree with Carlos Santana. He’s the biggest rock star of the moment, he got paid and he’s getting paid. It’s only the media that keeps on his butt and he can ignore them or play with them. Just like the media did with Robert Downey, Jr.. the media was all over him, he couldn’t breathe straight without the media down his throat. So the media coverage continues to hound Sheen because it just thrills us regular civilians to hear about STARS w/wonderlust in their eyes. Get real. Get out. Get a life. Who cares what Sheen does or doesn’t do. Do you think he’s doing anything different that other millionaires don’t do or haven’t done? They are just not publicized. Take Errol Flynn for one, Richard Burton for two, The Stones for four……………..It’s the public that keeps this crap rolling and makes all you civilians dung beetles.

  48. sonia -  March 5, 2011 - 9:36 am

    Same as Rampaw. I would like to know that word. I have gone as far as to contemplate isolation from current news.(unrealistic)

  49. Schipperke -  March 4, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    Thanks for the word. I’ve been looking for a way to describe what I’m feeling. This isn’t it. I need a word that describes great sadness at watching the downfall of someone you wanted to admire for his talent. I take no joy in it at all. I don’t know the man but he’s brought me virtually to tears. I feel for his father and his family.

  50. Rampaw -  March 4, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    Schadenfreude is the reason for the enormous popularity of reality shows. You suggest that Mudita, “happiness in another’s good fortune,” is the opposite of Schadenfreude. What word means “getting no pleasure from the pain of others.” That’s me. I can’t stand reality shows. I didn’t even like “Candid Camera” back in the day. We’re a sick society, but I guess we always have been.

  51. arianna -  March 4, 2011 - 1:26 pm

    I believe the mental illness side of this is a symptom of having the disorder called bipolar. I think may people in the spot light suffer from something or develop some kind of illness. I they don’t they are blessed. haha! I’d hate to have my privacy taken away!

  52. random 9th grader! -  March 4, 2011 - 1:23 pm

    Hm… So very very true. LOL! He was quite debaucherous, as in his behavior should be a heinous crime, like adultry. Or some other thing like MURDER. But his behavior, in lamens terms, was ridiculous. He was being a stupid little drunk jerk who, in a fit like a three year old child (or maybe not ;D) drank himself stupid, and then proceeded to get arrested. Its all terribly confusing.

  53. M -  March 4, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    There’s a whole song about this word in the musical “Avenue Q”. It’s sung by a puppet parody of Sesame Street’s Ernie, and a woman playing Gary Coleman.

    I’m totally serious. :)

  54. Dina Santorelli -  March 4, 2011 - 1:07 pm

    “Schadenfreude” is actually one of my favorite words. Wasn’t sure if I was supposed to capitalize it here or not, but, as luck would have it, it was the first word in my sentence. :)


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top