I wonder about the word "glee": It has hitherto been my impression that the word is typically used equivalent to danish "skadefryd" or german "schadenfreude"; ie. being pleased with someone else's misfortune. - But the reason I ask is that I'm in doubt if my impression might be wrong? The dictionary.com article does not mention any aspect of being pleased with someone else's misfortune at all, but simply states:

  1. open delight or pleasure; exultant joy; exultation.

Although far down on the page they quote British Dictionary:

  1. great merriment or delight, often caused by someone else's misfortune

It seems it's used in either sense, so my question is how prevalent (or not) is the aspect of 'schadenfreude' in the average native english language users understanding or perception of the word "glee"?

In examples such as "It is a person full of glee", or "They reacted with glee", or "They were gleeful of it" - and not giving any context, then would it be assumed by default (assuming that the 'schadenfreude' aspect of the word had not initially, as here, been given particular focus), as the immediate impression, simply that they are happy, and nothing else? Or implicitly also that it was propably due to someone's misfortune? (and might there be any difference in that respect, between the different examples?)

  • 3
    "Glee" would not be a strange word to use to describe someone's reaction to another's misfortune. However, I can't think of a reason why this would be assumed implicitly without context.
    – Evan
    May 11, 2017 at 16:50
  • I never really thought about that. That's pretty neat. I agree with @Roger Sinasohn, but +1 for a great question.
    – Chaim
    May 11, 2017 at 17:13
  • 1
    This veers into opinion, however, I might suggest a different flavor or schadenfreude is implied...more of a surprised and unexpected outcome in a zero-sum situation ...zero sum by default implying that there were losers however the pleasure being from the "win" not the others loss. I do think a word like "elated", or "overjoyed" would be chosen more often if there wasn't a tinge of rivalry implied. (you could be gleeful that a third party you supported won over the rival you disliked)
    – Tom22
    May 11, 2017 at 18:23
  • Ok @Tom22 I think I understand what you mean. And possibly a good point there.. Though just to make the note of it: as for the german word 'schadenfreude': if it's not specifically about the other person getting hurt, then it's not 'schadenfreude'.. But as I said I think I see what you mean.
    – RP Nielsen
    May 11, 2017 at 19:12
  • FWIW If you did want to firmly suggest more pleasure from others misfortune While still dwelling on ones own success you could use the word gloat Dwell on one's own success or another's misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gloat
    – Tom22
    May 11, 2017 at 19:21

3 Answers 3


As @Evan said, Glee could certainly be used to describe someone's delight caused by another person's misfortune, but it does not inherently mean schadenfreude, at least not in the US. Here's what the Oxford Dictionary (US) has to say:



1 Great delight.

‘his face lit up with impish glee’

2 A song for men's voices in three or more parts, usually unaccompanied, of a type popular especially c.1750–1830.

‘Later, boys were paid to sing treble parts at meetings of glee clubs, and glees for SATB became more common.’

The latter definition, is apparently the source of the term glee club; something of which I was unaware.

In the British dictionary, however, the definition is slightly different:



1 [mass noun] Great delight, especially from one's own good fortune or another's misfortune.

‘his face lit up with impish glee’

So, I guess it depends on where you are.

  • 1
    Thanks all you guys. Not sure if I'd consider it a "case closed" reply, but I certainly got a more nuanced impression.
    – RP Nielsen
    May 11, 2017 at 19:14
  • Impish suggests a degree of malice, or at least mischief. Nov 26, 2023 at 14:50

I have heard it used where is to describe someone with a low level of responsibility or someone who is insane, as in the glee of irresponsibility or the glee of insanity. I picture these people laughing out of control and at things that are destructive of others or to their misfortune. An insane person might laugh uncontrollably after tripping someone, seeing someone injured, or the like.

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    May 19, 2022 at 18:20

From Vocabulary.com Definitions of glee noun great merriment synonyms:gleefulness, hilarity, mirth, mirthfulness see more noun malicious satisfaction synonyms:gloat, gloating

There is a negative view of glee.
If a child is very confused, they will sometimes show it in acting in a crazy gleeful laughter. So we have all seen people being full of glee where it demonstrates lack of responsibility or craziness, some demonstrating full insanity.

Of course it is most often used in the sense of actually being joyful.

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