For whatever reason, some words, though not new, come into vogue, for one reason or another, and become the "new" in word to help express a time or collective frame of mind.
The German word schadenfreude is such a word apparently. Its loose meaning, in English, is the satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune. I know. How German!
But seriously, I have come across this word now twice in the space of just a few days! The most recent reference in that most cosmopolitan of daily newspapers, the Los Angeles Times. I know. The Los Angeles Times!
I was reading this dispatch from London about how the British, even though going through their own economic crisis, are being smug (in a way that, trust me, only the British can be) about the crisis involving the euro in Greece.
And, there it was. Right smack in the second paragraph: schadenfreude!
Before a summit of European Union leaders this week, his usual Scottish dourness barely succeeded in masking Prime Minister Gordon Brown's schadenfreude when he declared that the euro's problems were for euro-using nations such as France and Germany to solve, not British taxpayers.
Hats off to Times reporter Henry Chu for working that neat little German word (well, I guess no German word is actually little!) into an LA Times piece. I know. An LA Times piece!
Anyway, it got me thinking: Maybe this is exactly the attitude we, here, in California, need to adopt so that we can stop feeling so freaking sorry for ourselves already? I mean, hardly a day goes by when we don't read or hear about how our state's budget is down the toilet (it is!); or that the City of Los Angeles is so broke, it can't even afford a toilet (it can't).
Now hear me out. Maybe the British PM is on to something: Instead of fretting about our own problems, wouldn't we feel a whole lot better crowing about the misfortunes of other cities and states?
Sure, California has a state government that couldn't govern itself out of a paper bag (not that we can afford a paper bag, mind you), but is it really any worse than, say, New Jersey? I mean, I grew up in the Northeast. You gotta trust me on this one. Nothing is worse than New Jersey!
I can feel that old schadenfreude taking over already. Boy, it feels good, too!
And what about the city of Los Angeles? Sure, its city council is probably not capable of agreeing on a pizza order from Domino's, let alone a decision on how to bridge an ever expanding budget gap. But, I ask you, are they any worse than the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council? A city that is so strapped for cash that it is actually thinking about increasing fees on canoe rentals! I didn't even know they have canoes in Ann Arbor? But, screw 'em, I say! Serves them right. At least we're not increasing rental fees for canoes in Los Angeles! (We're not, are we? And, if not, why not?????)
Thank God for schadenfreude, I say.
The Germans really know how to get off on the misery of others. That's why they invented an entire word for it!
Now, it's time that Californians start using it more often themselves.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.