Schadenfreude Explosion!

If you are fascinated with word usage, I suggest you try a powerful new tool, Google NGram Viewer. According to the website:

What’s all this do?
When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years. Let’s look at a sample graph:

You may have noticed the term “schadenfreude” appearing more and more, defined as the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Its usage is, I believe, a telling by product of the explosion of popularity of “reality” shows that often derive “entertainment” from the trials and tribulations of their subjects. In fact, this term just appeared in a recent ScienceBlogs posting.

Why do you think its usage has become so popular?

Back to the Google NGram Viewer. The data for usage of schadenfreude in thousands of books published from 1800 to 2008 shows a veritable explosion:

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Why not try a favorite term and see what the usage trends are? Google’s database goes back to 1500!

Comments

  1. #1 Rosie Redfield
    December 26, 2010

    Um, schadenfreude’ frequency started moving up back in about 1985, but the first reality shows that entertained viewers with others’ misfortunes didn’t really start until about 2000 (Big Brother, Survivor). At that time schadenfreude was already halfway to where it is now. I wonder whose misfortunes we were gloating about in the 1990s.

  2. #2 Jeff
    December 26, 2010

    Thanks. I noticed that as well. The steep slope of the curve suggests to me more of an increasingly pervasive attitude – this term is strong after all. It is a telling by product of these reality shows, not cause and effect.

  3. #3 Clam
    December 27, 2010

    Have Google accounted fro the increasing number of books? Wouldn’t any word, almost, show a similar growth?

  4. #4 Alan
    December 27, 2010

    @Clam – It’s a percentage, not an amount. Therefore, no, it would not

  5. #5 Jeff
    December 27, 2010

    Yes. These data are a percentage. Try your own “control experiment.” Search for “the” and you will see essentially a flat line.

  6. #6 frank habets
    December 27, 2010

    I think the word grew in popularity when it was used in the sitcom ‘Frasier’, circa 1990.

  7. #7 Julian
    December 30, 2010

    Wow, that is amazing, aren’t they?

  8. #8 Erin R
    December 31, 2010

    I’d like to see a Google Trends of this over the past few years as well (I’d do this right now but I’m browsing from my phone). Publications don’t necessarily reflect the vernacular, and I’d bet you anything the common use of it peaked 1) after Frasier, and 2) after Avenue Q, with it’s song Schadenfreude.

  9. #9 Domestigoth
    January 1, 2011

    Lisa Simpson used the word at one point in the 90s (probably early to mid 90s — I was still a kid at the time, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the word). I can’t remember which exact episode it was, unfortunately. I wonder how that relates to the graph?

  10. #10 Jeff
    January 3, 2011

    This tool from Google draws from books, so it is unlikely that entertainment media would impact the graph, unless the material was published in book form.