Searches For “Schadenfreude” Spike 30,500% After Trump Announces COVID Diagnosis

Photo: Tia Dufour/The White House/Getty Images.
Sometimes in the middle of a pandemic, people just need a word for feeling pleasure based on somebody else's pain — and on October 2, a whole lot of people needed that word. Now, if you were a theater kid in the 2000s you know the word "schadenfreude" because a puppet sang about it, but according to Merriam-Webster, the day Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis this German-derived term was the highest searched word by a large margin. In fact, lookups for schadenfreude went up 30,500% overnight.
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In case you didn't see Avenue Q and/or you weren't one of those people who quickly Googled when you saw it trending on Twitter, schadenfreude is defined by Merriam-Webster as "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others." The word itself is derived from two German words, Schaden (German for damage) and Freude (German for joy). So, schadenfreude literally means finding joy in other people's damage and if that's not a 2020 word, I don't know what is.
While we can't prove that Trump's COVID diagnosis caused this 30,500% spike in searches (correlation doesn't equal causation and all that, yeah I paid attention in 12th-grade statistics), Merriam-Webster traced the increase back to two sources. The first was a USA Today headline that read "President Donald Trump's coronavirus infection draws international sympathy and a degree of schadenfreude" and the second was a quote from a Chicago Tribune story that read, "The Russian president joined a list of world leaders expressing sympathy and concern and some thinly-veiled schadenfreude, in light of Trump's repeated downplaying of the pandemic and shoot-from-the-hip approach to the science surrounding it."
Whether or not Trump's diagnosis caused a sudden urge for a term to describe that sweet joy one feels when their enemy feels pain, we'll never know. But one thing we know for sure, we'll have Avenue Q's "Schadenfreude" stuck in our heads for the foreseeable future.

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