Schadenfreude and Lisa Simpson

A fresh post at After Deadline, a New York Times blog, discusses the newspaper’s frequent use of “schadenfreude.” The word appeared 43 times in the NYT in 2008, a record.

After Deadline suggests that the rise in “schadenfreude” is related to the play “Avenue Q,” which has a song of that name. My reference point, however, is an old “Simpsons” episode called “When Flanders Failed.” (These days, it would be called “Flanders Fail.”)

In the relevant scene, Homer is reveling in the apparent demise of the Leftorium, a store operated by his hated neighbor, Ned Flanders. Homer’s daughter Lisa isn’t happy with him. Here’s that dialog:

Lisa: Dad, do you know what schadenfreude is?

Homer: No, I do not know what shaden-frawde is. Please tell me, because I’m dying to know.

Lisa: It’s a German term for “shameful joy,” taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

Homer: Oh, come on, Lisa. I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt. He’s usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel. … What’s the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?

Lisa: Sour grapes.

Homer: Boy, those Germans have a word for everything.

Thanks, Lisa, for the vocabulary lesson. It’s stuck with me all these years. Perhaps it had the same effect on reporters and editors at The New York Times.