Monday, March 18, 2013

Wordworthy = "Fremdscham"

Into the great lexical maelstrom of English words borrowed from other languages...

From the creators of Schadenfreude and other useful words...

I present to you Fremdscham.  It's a word which may not yet be a word but which probably should be.

It is variously defined as "embarrassment on behalf of other people" or "discomfort by proxy".  It's used to describe -- in one handy word -- the feeling you get when watching someone else do something truly uncomfortable.  It is amplified by the perpetrator's lack of knowledge of how embarrassing something is.

Other not-quite-words which may or may not have the same definition include "wahjah" and "cringe".

Fremdscham (like all good German words) is the combination of scham meaning "shame" and fremd meaning "foreign, strange, or external".

I spend a good portion of my life immersed in Fremdscham.  It's whatever I feel when watching reality TV.  I also feel it in the presence of anyone who says, "Watch this!" in the course of a night's socializing.

I get a great discomfort when watching interviews, sometimes even fairly benign ones.  I don't think that's always Fremdscham, though.  I think it has more to do with a psychological failing on my part.  I start projecting the embarrassment I have about public speaking onto the interviewee, even if they have no particular reason to be embarrassed.  That's not to say that no interview produces shame by proxy: some CERTAINLY do.

But I can say for certain that the occasional wedding announcements will also provoke it.

Is the concept wordworthy?

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