It’s been awhile since I’ve made fun of a German word, but I suppose it’s as good a time now as any to dig further into this gold mine. 😛

I think that, for the majority of English speakers, the word schadenfreude has long entered their vocabulary.

This word, from the similar German word Schadenfreude*, means something like the enjoyment derived from observing someone else’s misfortune. Anyone who’s ever seen TV shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos or Tosh.0 will know exactly what this word means.

*Etymology: Schaden (damage or harm) + Freude (joy)

Few will know, however, that Schadenfreude actually also has a polar opposite cousin: Fremdscham**.

Google Translate gives Fremdscham the definition in English as foreign Cham, but don’t you believe it for one second! This word actually means the embarrassment that one feels at watching someone else embarrass themselves. Complicated, right? And, I’ll have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever run into this situation before (not one that I recall anyway). How did it ever get turned into a word?

**Etymology: Fremd (foreign or unrelated) + Scham (shame)

You may also be interested to know that Fremdscham has further spawned a related verb: fremdschämen*** – to feel ashamed for someone else who has done something embarassing.

***Etymology: Fremd (foreign or unrelated) + schämen (to feel ashamed)

Those who are adventurous with their word compounds, however, should shy away from the combination of Scham (shame) + Entzündung (inflammation). The resulting word will probably not mean what you think it should mean.

Want to read more about other uncommon words? 🙂 See the Interesting Words page.

Wiktionary – schadenfreude
Wiktionary – Schadenfreude
Wikipedia – Schadenfreude
Wiktionary – Fremdscham
Wiktionary – fremdschämen
Wiktionary – Schamentzündung


14 thoughts on “Fremdscham

  1. Fremdscham in English seems to be called “second-hand embarrassment”, which I use, and have seen other people use. Think about cringing when someone is making a total fool out of themselves.

    • You know, “second-hand embarrassment” is a very concise and elegant way of expressing that. I wouldn’t have thought of it though. I would have just expressed it as a phrase: “I felt embarrassed for him” (or in some similarly roundabout way). 🙂

  2. What, your guts never churned while watching someone else make a fool of themselves??? I’d have thought it’s a pretty common emotion…
    Also exists in Spanish: vergüenza ajena
    I don’t think they’ve turned it into a verb though.
    Love the pic with the kid, lol!

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