Gertraud Benke gertraud at LELAND.STANFORD.EDU
Wed May 7 07:43:11 UTC 1997

On Wed, 7 May 1997, Hartmut Haberland wrote:

> Well, so far we only have the judgment of two three native or near-native
> speakers on the list that this is the case. Since I am one of them, I uphold the view
> unless somebody shows me that I'm wrong. I have discussed the matter with
> other native speakers as well, and what usually happens is that the give
> you a dictionary definition ("pleasure stemming from others' misfortune"),
> then you give them some examples and ask, "Is this Schadenfreude?" and
> then they say "not really", and the finally come up with this
> "righteousness" or "satisfaction" component in the definition (or what

> For those who didn't follow all this, I'd like to refer back to Deborah's
> banana peel example which in my opinion covers best what Schadenfreude
> means. Note that if a car overtakes you at 250 kms/h (155 mph) on a German
> motorway, and you see it crashed against a tree a few kilometers down the
> road, then (my informants agree) you don't feel Schadenfreude, since the
> "punishment" is just out of proportion. But if you see the car stopped by
> the police, Schadenfreude seems to describe what you would feel.
> Hartmut Haberland

As a native speaker of German, I have been following this discussion about
Schadenfreude with interest, however, I find it hard to determine the
'exact' meaning. While I accept the banana example, I am unsure about the
overtaking on the freeway, as the one feeling 'Schadenfreude' has made no
direct/personal contact to the other person. Would, by extension, reading
about someone being caught speeding on the freeway qualify as well?

I guess, my indeterminacy stems from the context of use, in which I come
across the word - and the only context of use I could envision was that
someone was accused of being 'schadenfreudig' (Adj). by the person
targeted or alternatively by someone who defends that person. And the
latter would only be the case if that person really knew the other person,
so that moral issue could be discarded as irrelevant.

So, the question I would like to ask is: what is the context of *use* of
this word. While the sentiment one feels in the freeway example surely is
the same as the one described with the word "Schadenfreude", I would
nevertheless not use the word to describe this situation, i.e. for me the
classificatory component (with respect to emotions) does not sufficiently
capture the meaning of this word.

  Gertraud Benke     .    Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling.
School of Education  .   Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the
Stanford University  .  essential of creation-the inner desire (Kandinsky)

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