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July 27, 2018  |  Friday words #131  |  10936 hit(s)

Up here in the northern hemisphere, we're in the midst of the so-called dog days, which does not stand for "drained of gumption," no matter what you might read on the internet.

Everyone knows the word schadenfreude, right? Taking satisfaction in someone's misfortune. German, of course: Schaden ("damage, injury, disadvantage") and Freude ("joy"). This week I came across two (!) additional new-to-me words that describe our feels about others.

The first is another borrowing from our linguistic cousins: gluckschmerz (or Glückschmerz, if you want to get all German-y about it). This is kind of the opposite of schadenfreude—gluckschmerz describes the pain you feel at someone else's good fortune—Glück ("luck, fortune, happiness") and Schmerz ("pain"). Your annoying neighbor got a promotion? Gluckschmerz. Some rando won the raffle that you were holding a ticket for? Gluckschmerz. Sure, we have the word envy, but there's something a little more precise about the word gluckschmerz, says me.

On a rather less solipsistic note, Friend Ashley introduced me this week to the word compersion, which refers to the joy you feel at someone else's joy, specifically that of a "loved one." This word derives from the Latin word for godfather (compater), which suggests a kind of familial connection between the people involved. That said, it's a word that has currency in the polyamory community, where it specifically refers to joy at someone else's, um, romantic joy. This seems like a great word, but one might want to be very clear about context before rolling it out in company.

I recently made my way through the book The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester, which is subtitled How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. He noted something I hadn't thought about: the origin of the word precision. The trail is a bit muddy, but the word seems to derive from Latin "to cut off"—pre ("before") and caedere ("cut"). (The latter stem gives us other terms like incise, scissors, and homicide.) Maybe it's just me, but the semantic leap from "cut off" to "exact" wasn't super obvious. Etymologies can be like that sometimes.

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Jim Bisso   27 Jul 18 - 8:14 AM

Latin praecise dicere can also mean to 'speak concisely' (in Cicero). See


Interesting coincidence: this week, I took a wider etymological look at English smart (adj & vb), German Schmerz, Latin mordeo 'bite', Greek sµe?d??? 'terrible, dreadful'.

Also, Schadenfreude was coined to translate "libitinariorum vota" from Seneca De beneficiis 6.38.4. There is a Greek word for Schadenfreude: ?p??a??e?a??a in the Nicomachean Ethics.

mike   27 Jul 18 - 8:21 AM

Speaking precisely can be seen to speak concisely, i.e., to "omit needless words"--?

"Smart" as in "that smarts"? Now that you mention it, it seems like a relatively obvious connection to Schmerz.

mike   27 Jul 18 - 8:22 AM

PS Sorry about the Unicode fail. Not sure if it's a SQL Server issue, or something in the way I'm writing to it, or how I'm rendering text.

Jim Bisso   27 Jul 18 - 8:22 AM

I see the Unicode Greek did not come through. The two words in transliteration are smerdnos "terrible' and epikhairekakía 'schadenfreude'.