Friday, December 24, 2010

A schadenfreudian slip?

Christmas is the 'season of good will to all men', and I had really meant to leave the pedants to their roast turkey, but this took the biscuit. By the time I saw it however, it was too late to post a counter-comment, so 'Have Blog Will Speak Out'. I'm talking of a comment to an article by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins on Christopher Hitchens, his hero for 2010, under the 'Comment is Free' rubric at the Guardian. Both Dawkins and Hitchens are committed atheists and Dawkins had written:

He [Hitchens] laughs off the spiritual vultures eager for a death-bed conversion, and dismisses – but with unfailingly gracious courtesy – the many schadenfreudian prayers for his recovery

Now don't worry, I'm not going to get into an atheism versus religion debate, this is not the place. But my hackles were raised when I saw this comment by a certain GoloMannFan (my emphasis):

Your grotesque offences against both the English and German languages aside, is there any actual evidence that Schadenfreude is the motive for such prayers? You know, evidence. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept. You bang on about it often enough.

OK, I get the impression GoloMannFan doesn't have much time for Dawkins. That's fair enough, even some atheists don't like Dawkins's proselytising very much, but why bring his language into it (I assume he doesn't like the word schadenfreudian). As soon as you see the words: 'grotesque offences against ... [the] English ... language ...', you know that they're going to be nothing of the sort.


First GoloMannFan correctly spells Schadenfreude with a capital 'S'. Correct that is when you are writing German, where nouns take a capital letter, but schadenfreude (with a small 's', in every dictionary I can find, except for one) is now thoroughly integrated into English, having entered the language in 1922. So that was just a little bit of misplaced intellectual snobbery.

Perhaps we had better define schadenfreude just in case you don't know what it means:
a feeling of pleasure at the bad things that happen to other people (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others (Merriam-Webster)

And Oxford defines grotesque as:
1. strange in a way that is unpleasant or offensive
2. extremely ugly in a strange way that is often frightening or amusing

GoloMannFan strikes me as being neither frightened nor amused, so I presume he means the first. (Or perhaps he's a she). And offence?
1. an illegal act - as in an offence against society/humanity/the state
2. the act of upsetting or insulting somebody

Well it obviously upset GoloMannFan, but I can't for the life of me think why.

Now we already have the word freudian, used to describe the ideas of Sigmund Freud, but also in the expression freudian slip:
something you say by mistake but which is believed to show your true thoughts

So I thought Dawkins had cleverly combined the two words to make a rather witty neologism.

But in fact it seems the word schadenfreudian is not so new, having already appeared twice in Newsweek, according to Wordnik, as an adjective derived from the noun schadenfreude, and as far as I can see it follows the rules of word transformation absolutely perfectly.

I checked out GoloMannFan's profile in the Guardian and can see no other language outbursts like this, so perhaps we can put it down to a 'schadenfreudian slip'. I also found that he refers to a certain clip at YouTube, which happens to be one of my all-time favourite feel-good videos, as 'one of the most amazing things I've ever seen', so he can't be all bad. Only, sorry but I can't resist it, he calls it 'Do, a dear, a female dear', Central Station, Antwerp.'Oh joy! Oh schadenfreude! It is of course 'Doe, a deer, a female deer' (The song title is Do-Re-Mi), doe being the name for the female of certain species of deer, such as Fallow deer and Roe deer. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

The link he gives is broken, so I suggest you try this search result

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

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