Consider observing someone getting a taste of their own medicine, reaping the whirlwind or whose chickens are coming home to roost.

In some ignoble, jealous way such situations can be satisfying for observers, particularly if they were, themselves, hurt by the previous state of affairs. Is there a specific term for this hollow laugh of an emotion in an observer?

There may well be a certain cosmic irony to the situation, it might even exemplify vengeance. It exemplifies schadenfreude and, as such, is a lot less noble than the satisfaction of seeing justice done but is, presumably, conveniently mistaken for it.

But none of these seem to be on the button for what seems to be a very common emotional state. Many very precise words for other characteristic emotional states exist in various languages (sehnsucht, hiraeth, schadenfreude, saudade): a loan-word would also be interesting to hear, but this also gives me hope that such a word may exist in English.

Words would be more interesting than phrases, but both will do. (It is, after all, idea easily expressed by description).

Sample sentence: I watched aghast, disgusted and, I admit, with certain a certain sense of X, as the tyrant's great machine -- terror of Megalopolis -- turned, to pin its lifeless, limpid eye upon its own inventor.

  • 2
    You are probably thinking catharsis, but something particular to observing poetic justice, so I don't have a clear suggestion.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 20:57
  • 1
    Could you give us a sample sentence with a gap where the word would go. The extra context would help. Thanks. Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 21:38
  • Are you sure about your use of the word jealous? If I understand your question correctly, you are asking about some sort of cruel satisfaction - taking pleasure in seeing others get their comeuppance- an opportune time for them to quip, "karma's a bitch huh?" But I don't think I'd be jealous of them at that point.
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 22:56
  • Ok- got it: hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 23:00
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    This looks a lot like an opportunity to use schadenfreude: "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others," according to Merriam-Webster. Note that the troubles need not be undeserved to trigger schadenfreude.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 4:16

2 Answers 2


I suggested schadenfreude months ago in a comment, and now I wish that I (or someone) had done so as an answer, so that this question could get bumped out of the Unanswered Questions queue. Here (again) is the definition of schadenfreude in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003):

schadenfreude n, often cap {G[erman], fr[om] Schaden damage + Freude joy} (1895) : enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

Schadenfreude might be a bit less righteous than the word you're looking for, since it applies to enjoyment of the visiting of whirlwinds on others whether the reapers have sown the wind or not. But there is some justice in that incomplete righteousness, too, since an element of malice lurks in the enjoyment of seeing someone sorely afflicted, even if that person richly deserves punishment. At any rate, MW considers that it has been an English word for more than a century.

  • This is the word I thought of, and I think it's one that it needs to get a bit more play in English. Too bad that it's unspellable, unpronounceable, and so obviously Germanic or it would be really perfect!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 19:47

I watched aghast, disgusted and, I admit, with a certain malevolent pleasure, as ...

In place of pleasure, you could use enjoyment, gratification, or thrill.

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