By Published On: October 24th, 2011

Written by: Josh October 23 2011 I’ve always liked languages. […]

Written by: Josh

I’ve always liked languages. The intricacies, the subtle differences that make each one vibrant. While I certainly don’t speak Japanese, we lived there long enough to pick up a few things.

I always loved the ubiquitous greeting, ‘Genki desu ka?’ Genki is one of those words that defies a literal translation and has no English counterpart. It roughly translates to a feeling a energetic happiness, and I always preferred that as an alternative to ‘How are you?’

Another keeper was, at the end of the work day, instead of saying whatever you might say here in the U.S., you always bid farewell to your co-workers with ‘Otsukare sama desu.’ Roughly translated, this would come out as ‘Gee, Bob, you must be really tired because I saw how hard you just worked for nine hours straight, and I can only hope that I also worked that hard.’

Switching lexicons, I want to talk about the German schadenfreude. It comes from the roots schaden (adversity or harm) and freude (joy), thus translating approximately to the shameful joy one feels in taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Bub must feel this all the time! But, I admit, I am guilty of it on occasion as well.

Actually, the taking pleasure part might be a bit strong, but it’s definitely a shameful kind of joy. Because I don’t wish anyone else any ill will, don’t want to taint my parental karma. But I am always glad that learn that I will not be dealing with the particular catastrophe that is about to unfold. It’s really more like smug relief. Is there a word for that in German? I suggest a hybrid: let’s go with smugfreude.

Let me set the scene for you, because it happens on a semi-regular basis. There we are, be it at home or out and about, and a kid starts bawling. Our parental frequency detects it immediately and we swing into action, only to discover…it’s NOB (Not Our Bub), some other schmuck with a pocketful of fikeys problem; a wave of joy washes over us. Smugfreude.

More often than not, this happens in the comfort of our home. Our neighbors have kids, and when we are in our bed and the wails come a-tumbling down, there’s always those few fleeting seconds of panicky hope, where we’re not sure if it’s ours or theirs. It’s fifty-fifty, really, that fine line between smugfreude and crushing defeat. And there’s not much in between.

Then there are times when we know it’s NOB from the context or visual clues and what-have-you. Usually at a restaurant or the playground or the grocery store. A kid goes into full meltdown, and we sit around and watch, quite satisfied that our little angel would never pitch such a fit because we had to hand “his” bag of sunflower seeds to the cashier. I mean, what kind of parenting is that, right? You probably deserve the full scope of this misery your little sapling is heaping upon you, because I think we can all see that you have clearly, at least in some capacity, failed as a parental unit.

I don’t really think that, of course. No, really, like I said, I like to keep my parental karma in the black. That’s just my paranoid projection of what others must be thinking about me when Bub pops his cork at the grocer. The cashier gives me a look of disdain, that’s different. He obviously has fathered no offspring. That’s just schadenangry. So empathy is a big part of smugfreude. If you don’t already know, then you can’t possibly know.

Perfect example: the flight we took a month ago. Bub had a rough time, as you may remember. I do. Not feeling very genki on that day, Bubster. Most people on the plane were pretty annoyed, irritated, schadenangry. But then there was that couple in front of us with the sub-one year-old who was a doll the entire four hours. Oh yeah, they were basking in the smugfreude.