Schadenfreude ˈʃɑːdənfrɔɪdə (German: [ˈʃaːdənˌfʁɔʏdə]) is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This German word is used as a loanword in English and some other languages, and has been calqued in Danish and Norwegian as skadefryd and in Swedish as skadeglädje and Finnish as vahingonilo.As comments here and elsewhere have stated, it's not surprising that a word with such a sinister definition comes from German. After all, Nazis.
Yet, the word's meaning is more complex than the simple Wikipedia definition. It does not mean that Germans stand at the scene of a fatal accident and laugh their asses of. It does not mean that they can't stop giggling at a funeral. It also doesn't mean that they're doubled over during a natural disaster in someone else's country.
Wikipedia's definition leaves out two important aspects of Schadenfreude:
1) the recipient of the feeling must be considered deserving of what happens to him/her
2) the damage experienced by said person must not be greater than the damage he/she inflicted or might have inflicted upon others
Let me elaborate below the orange thingy:
Schadenfreude ensues when Karma proves to be the proverbial female canine. We experience Schadenfreude when people get what they had coming to them, or at least when we perceive it that way.
A fellow driver on the freeway drives like a white-knuckled asshole, speeding under inappropriate conditions and weaving in and out of lanes. A few miles later, the same driver is seen pulled over and in the process of getting a big fat ticket. Schadenfreude!
A "family-values" politician, infamous for his anti-gay policies, is caught with a live boy and is forced to resign from office. Schadenfreude!
A talk radio hate monger is pulled from the airwaves because too many advertisers cancelled their subscriptions. Schadenfreude!
In all the examples above, nobody got killed, maimed, or even seriously damaged. The misfortune that the recipients of Schadenfreude experienced is ultimately the result of their own wrongdoings. Also, the misfortune experienced (a speeding ticket, a resignation, unemployment) is less detrimental than the damage they inflicted, or might have inflicted, on others (potential accidents, discriminatory legislation, a climate of hate).
There is another aspect of Schadenfreude: sometimes we laugh about somebody's blunder simply because he/she/it looked funny as it happened. Example: all those blooper reels on "America's Funniest Videos." Again, Schadenfreude applies only if no real harm comes to the person or animal in question. It is essential to the fun of it that whoever fell gets up and is okay. Otherwise, it's not funny.
That is why we should enjoy our Schadenfreude about election night without a bad conscience. Nothing really bad happened to the poor deluded wingnuts. As Rachel Maddow put it:
And nobody is taking away anyone's guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as communism.The wingnuts don't know it yet, but none of their perceived threats will come to pass. All the "free stuff" we voted for will benefit them too. However, if the sociopath they voted for had won, real misfortune would have come to all of us, including them. The only misfortune that did happen to them is that they looked foolish on election night. They should count their blessings.
Of course there are people who rejoice at others' tragedy. But they are not indulging in Schadenfreude; they're just plain evil.