This question is purely theoretical (i.e. I don't foresee actually trying to use the word), but using arguments based on etymology, as well as euphony and (least importantly) comprehensibility, what is the most etymologically faithful English equivalent for the German Schadenfreude?

Other Germanic languages use etymologically translated calques: skadefryd (Danish & Norwegian), schadevreugde (Dutch). English has a cognate word for German Schaden, Dutch schade, Danish & Norwegian skade, Swedish skada (all of which mean damage/injury) in the form of scathe (which also means damage/injury) – all descended from Proto-Germanic *​skaþô (damage/injury) – so it is reasonable to propose that the first part of the theoretical English word should be scath-, scathe- or skaith-.

The difficulty lies with the second part – English does have a word frith (peace/sanctuary) that is a distant cousin of German Freude, Dutch vreugde, Danish & Norwegian fryd (all of which mean joy); but it is a closer relation to German Frieden, Dutch vrede, Danish & Norwegian fred (all of which mean peace), these words and frith all being descended from Proto-Germanic *⁠friþuz (peace). One could opt for -frith : scathefrith is viable.

Or one could take the Swedish option (skadeglädje) and replace the last part with a different word for joy (glädje = gladness) : scathgladness or skaithgladness are options.

The question(s) are which of these three options (scathefrith, scathgladness or skaithgladness) is the best, and is there a better option? Can someone pull a (perhaps obscure, perhaps archaic or even Old) English word out the bag that is a closer relation to Freude/vreugde/fryd? Or perhaps a word with a slightly different etymology that is better for other reasons?

P.S. Apologies if such questions are not appropriate on English SE, but it is a technical question looking for a technical answer, however theoretical it may be.

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    Skaithgloat or scathegloat? Scathegloating has a nice rhythmic and semantic symmetry with scapegoating.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 3:42
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    Wikipedia takes up this question in some detail.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 4:50
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    @Dan’s scathegloat is obviously less etymologically sound, being based on only one cognate and one non-cognate; but it is a brilliant creation nonetheless. It is euphonic, sounds like a proper endemic word, and is easy to grasp and remember. I'm going to start using scathegloat instead of Schadenfreude in English. Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 16:35
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    I have never heard of an etymologically faithful equivalent in translation. This is a game, but not translation.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 21:38
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    Don't you think schadenfreude remains a loan word for two reasons? Secondly, none-too many English-speaking people understand it in the second place but even before that the cognoscenti concur, there isn't even a good etymological calque, let alone one worthy of being acknowledged "best". Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 22:02

6 Answers 6



English 'schadenfreude', a noun attested from 1867 in OED, derives directly from German schadenfreude, a noun-noun compound. Schade meant "damage, harm, injury", viz.

'schaden' image from Kluge, tr. Davis, 1891

An etymological dictionary of the German language. By Friedrich Kluge, translated by John Francis Davis. The date of the (translated) author's preface indicates the gloss and etymological details stemmed from lexical work completed no later than 1888 and most likely completed before 1883.

Freude meant "joy, pleasure, delight", viz.

'freude' image from Kluge etc.

op. cit.

An Englished meaning of the schadenfreude compound is given by William Dwight Whitney in the 1877 edition of A compendious German and English dictionary as "pleasure at the misfortune of others, malignant joy", viz.

'schadenfreude' image from Whitney 1877

The English meaning given by Whitney in 1877 for the German compound schadenfreude is the meaning retained by the adopted English compound 'schadenfreude' to this day.


This investigator accepts the original poster's suggestion that 'scathe' serves well for the first part of the desired "best etymological calque" compound, especially because OED's sense 2a (not shown as obsolete in an entry not "fully updated" since 1910) for "scathe, n." is

Hurt, harm, damage.

Although 'scathe' in this sense is in my estimation obsolescent today (except as found in the participial adjective 'scathing'), the poster of the question indicated that contemporary obsolescence was not at issue for a desirable answer.


Kluge, in particular, suggested a number of cognates that might be investigated while attempting to find what the original poster of the question announced in comments they were looking for, the investigation target also implicit in the question:

an obscure, obsolete or even Old English word that was derived from the same root as Freude.

The cognates suggested by Kluge can be supplemented from Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm to include "freuen, MidHG", "vröuwen, OHG", "frouwen", and "ahd. frawida, frewida, frowida, mhd. vreude, vröude, nhd. bei".

An exhaustive search of the OED for "obscure, obsolete or even Old English" words derived from any of the cognates suggested by Kluge and the Grimms failed to bear fruit.

Bearing in mind, however, that the original question stipulated "comprehensibility" as of lesser importance than etymology and euphony, and also bearing in mind that there was no indication in the question that complete agreement with contemporary English usage should be desirable, Kluge's suggestion to "see froh" seemed worthwhile. Also, Whitney gave schadenfroh as the adjectival counterpart of schadenfreude, with the meaning "pleased at the misfortune of others, malignant, mischievous".

Froh is glossed by Kluge as "glad, joyous, happy" in English:

*froh*, image from Kluge 1891 *froh* image continued

Kluge, 1891.

Leaping from freude to its reconstructed (that is, unattested) Proto-Indo-European root, *prew-, meaning "to jump, hop", and from there to a posited Proto-Germanic *frawaz, the English word 'frolic' is suggested as a descendant, via Dutch, Middle Dutch and Old Dutch.

OED gave the noun 'frolic' as deriving from either the verb or the adjective; the etymology of the adjective 'frolic' associates the Middle Dutch form vrô with the modern German froh.

Dutch vrolijk (in Kilian vrolick), = Old Saxon frôlîc (whence frôlîco adverb), Old High German frôlîch (Middle High German vrôlich, vrœlic, modern German fröhlich); < Middle Dutch vrô = Old High German frô (Middle High German vrô, modern German froh) glad, joyous.

(Bold emphasis mine.)

Of the etymology of the verb 'frolic', OED remarks that the second element, -licken (Flemish) or -lochen is "of obscure origin".

New Compound

The foregoing suggests that the neologistic compound scathe-frolic serves to answer the question of what, "using arguments based on etymology, as well as euphony and (least importantly) comprehensibility", is the "most etymologically faithful English equivalent for the German Schadenfreude?"

'Euphony', of course, may be considered a matter of personal taste or a matter to be settled by consensus; scathe-frolic sounds pleasant enough to my ear, and seems easy to pronounce. If, as I suspect, the original question meant by 'euphony' something more like sound-similarity than "pleasing and easy to pronounce", the phonic similarity of the first syllable of '-frolic' and the entirety of 'freude', while somewhat slantwise (at least in my pronunciations), is self-evident.

'Comprehensibility', the least important of the stipulations, is in my opinion largely determined by familiarity with the compound used with the particular meaning of "pleasure at the misfortunes of others, malignant joy". However, it might be argued that, absent knowledge of the intended meaning, 'scathe-frolic' would lend itself to, among other interpretations, interpretation as a synonym of 'algolagnia', active or passive or both, where 'algolagnia' is defined as

The practice of deriving pleasure, esp. sexual pleasure, from pain inflicted on oneself or others; the urge or tendency to derive pleasure in this way. Cf. SADOMASOCHISM n.
  Often divided into active and passive algolagnia, corresponding to sadism and masochism respectively.


Other possible interpretations, again absent knowledge of the intended meaning of "pleasure at the misfortunes of others, malignant joy", might involve association with, for example, unlucky outcomes for extreme sports. I suggest, though, that once the intended meaning has been associated with the term, it will come to seem natural — at least as if not more natural than that meaning associated with 'schadenfreude'.

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    I can't believe some poor soul actually translated Kluge into English. There's a .pdf of the German original bouncing around the internet.
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 18:45
  • Thank you for the comprehensive and erudite answer. This is just the kind of content and voice I was hoping to attract. I'm a little sad that no obscure cognate to freude could be found, but I'm pleased with the overall argument. +500, with my thanks and congratulations.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 14:10
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    @DanBron, my pleasure, really. Much of my pleasure is the hunt; whether the beast is caught counts very little. In this case, if the PIE and Proto-Germanic comparative evidence has been accurately interpreted (by those in a better position to do so than I am), 'frolic' is cognate with freude, having descended from *prew- with differences ascribable to separate phonetic development. Certainly the sense of "to jump, hop" hasn't been lost from 'frolic', or even from freude if my notion of "joy, pleasure, delight" is shared.
    – JEL
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 21:28

Scathe is indeed cognate to German Schaden, and there is a scarcely known nominal form as well. The general sense of "harm, damage," however, is only available in unscathed, as the non-metaphorical scathe carries a strong association with fire. If one returns to the Old English sceaþian, and imagine its meaning never having been narrowed — and that there was never such a thing as the Great Vowel Shift — a new derivative of this verb might be more suitable for the first part of the compound.

The second element is more problematic, mostly because -frith or -frid makes any compound with an equally Germanic first element sound like a minor character in a Wagnerian opera — Siegfried's trusted groomsman, Skaithfrid — or an ancient king, Skathefrith the Lame. Using -gloat would be imprecise, because it may describe the results, but not the sentiment of Schadenfreude.

The Swedish solution, then, might recommend itself: sceathgladness with its accompanying adjective sceathglad. The German Freude, however, ultimately derives from a PIE root meaning "to jump," and English speakers don't jump for gladness, but joy, which has the decided advantage of being the best translation of Freude: think Beethoven.

Joy, however, is not Germanic and does not even number among the Germanic words borrowed into French, but comes from Latin gaudium. I still would prefer joy, if only for the word sceathjoyous, which I would insist on pronouncing with the stress on the second syllable.

So one is left with sceathjoy, the Swedish-ish sceathgladness, or your bit part in the Ring Cycle.

It seems to me that on the way across the Atlantic, a key element of Schadenfreude has been minimized, and that is that it's most often experienced as a result of what one could call "banana peel justice." If one sees an elderly woman slip on the ice, only the most callous would experience Schadenfreude, but if it's, say, a self-important politician whose views one doesn't share, one jumps for Schadenfreude:

Schadenfreude scheint eine dominante Rolle beim Erhalt von Gerechtigkeit und der Bestrafung von Normverstößen in menschlichen Gesellschaften zu spielen.

In human societies, Schadenfreude appears to play a dominant role in maintaining justice and punishing transgressions against social norms.

Recovering this nuance, I think, would be of greater value than recovering Old English roots.

  • Wow! Nice work! We have a contender here!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:43
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    Try glee for joy: From Old English glíw, gléo; meaning “Mirth, joy, rejoicing; in modern use, a lively feeling of delight caused by special circumstances and finding expression in appropriate gestures and looks.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:52
  • Wouldn't that just sound like a bizarre -ly adverb?
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 21:45
  • Scatheglee you mean? Hm.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 22:50
  • Scathgly the serpent slithered into the night.
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 22:52

Although not an A-S scholar, I've always thought Scathfrith would be the best from-A-S equivalent of Schadenfreude. (I had originally thought "shadefrith" would be better, but etymologically it isn't as good as scathfrith or scathefrith.)


I'm not sure exactly what OP means by "best etymological calque" here. Obviously there's no succinct equivalent "word-by-word translation" equivalent - that's why we (and several other languages) adopted the foreign term in the first place.

Those who understand the two German words could perhaps "fill in the blanks" around the explicitly-stated harm/joy elements as...

[another's] misfortune [causing] enjoyment [for you]

I'm not 100% certain exactly what sense is intended by the following, but it seems pretty close...

"I thought she was a pain vampire"

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    By “best etymological calque”, I believe he means a direct, literal translation from the German word that uses English cognates of the German Schade and Freude, but which are also understandable to normal English speakers. Scathefrith is an excellent etymological calque, but it suffers from the disadvantage that nobody says frith (or knows what it means) anymore. Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 16:33
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    @Janus: oic. I thought OP was just after some juxtaposition of two English words that might convey something of the same relationship and total meaning as the two German words. I'm now having trouble understanding how the question is relevant to ELU, if answering it requires one to know German (or archaic German "borrowings" that have long fallen into disuse). Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 16:45
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    @FumbleFingers : OP was looking ideally for a etymologically defendended cognate-based calque of Schadenfreude – my main issue with "scathefrith" was that "frith" was descended from a Proto-Germanic word that though a cousin of an acestor of Freude was actually a direct ancestor of Frieden and was wondering if there was an obscure, obsolete or even Old English word that was derived from the same root as Freude. And whilst ELU's mission statement doesn't say anything about German, it does mention etymology, so I reckoned that questions about Proto-Germanic derived terms were kosher.
    – R160K
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 1:29
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    @FumbleFingers I'm with you here. As a translator myself, I have never heard of a "best etymological calque". I would love to see another example....from any language into English. Word-for-word equivalents are known as literal translations. Generally speaking, either one uses a good approximation of the meaning or the word itself. After all, one does see the word in English texts so I think this is basically a fool's errand.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 21:22

Schadenfreude (n.) "malicious joy in the misfortunes of others," 1922, German Schadenfreude, literally "damage-joy," from schaden "damage, harm, injury" (see scathe) + freude, from Old High German frewida "joy," from fro "happy," literally "hopping for joy," from Proto-Germanic *frawa- (see frolic).

After consulting my Webster's Dictionary, I propose that the most aptly expressed English calque of the German noun, schadenfreude, might be the compound noun, scatfrolic (or scat-frolic):

portrait of Noah Webster, L.L.D. title page of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, c.1959


...inasmuch as scat (n.) may be British dialect for: a blow, spat, or hurt; wherein spat may be defined: smack or slap, attested from 1823. Frolic is likewise used in its noun sense of meaning happy-dance.

Scatfrolic or scat-frolic perfectly captures the emotionally and intellectually stunted attitude of receiving pleasure from the misery of others.

Another English version that might work, is the compound noun scatfree or scat-free, replacing frolic with free, in the adjective sense of meaning beloved or loving, from the Old Norse, Frigg.

Both examples sound appropriate for the meaning, while suggesting double-entendres for added interest.



A 21st century candidate, whose meaning can be easily guessed. Like schadenfreude, it is a compound noun composed of "smirk" (both a noun and verb) and "mishap"

Middle English: from mis- + hap.

Old English sme(a)rcian, from a base shared by smile.

Merriam-Webster defines "smirk" as

: to smile in an unpleasant way because you are pleased with yourself, glad about someone else's trouble, etc.

What does the OP intend by calque?

The word calque is derived from the French calque, and it means to translate literally word-for-word a foreign word or expression. For example, "Groundhog" may be a calque from Dutch "aertoercken."

An additional example would be the English term wisdom tooth and the Italian dente del giudizio, both are the calque of the Latin dēns sapientiae. Using the strict criteria set by the OP and its bounty benefactor, the "best etymological calque" of sapientia would not be wisdom, derived from Old High German wistuom, but instead sapience. Moreover, the Italian word giudizio (judgement) is not a cognate of sapentia but of Latin iudicium.

There is no rule, anywhere, that a calque must be formed by cognates. It's simply untrue, and the OP's quest is senseless and flawed. A much more realistic approach, from a linguistic point of view, would be to translate the loanword using common English words whose meaning are naturally intuitive. Therefore, to smirk at someone's mishap, translates the meaning of schadenfreude, rather neatly. It just so happens that "smirk" has Old English origins and is possibly derived from Proto-Germanic smarōną while the Germanic-sounding mishap is a compound word that incorporates the prefix mis- with the virtually obsolete and archaic hap, meaning "luck", "fortune". Hap dates back to Proto-Germanic *hap- (source of Old English gehæp "convenient, fit"), it is no longer used in the English language but its derivatives, hapless and mishap, have survived to the present-day.

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