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In an email I received recently, the writer described one of his daughter Hanna's relatives with these words: "Lynne is the wife of the brother of Hanna's husband, Randy." Hmmm... The English language boasts the largest vocabulary of any tongue, but relationships is one area where its impecuniosity shows.

Sure, my correspondent could have used the generic term sister-in-law, but that's so vague as to be almost useless. It could imply any of the three possible relationships encompassing maybe a half-dozen people.

Many languages have a rich repertoire when it comes to describing relationships. For example, in Hindi one could precisely describe the above relationship with a single word. In fact, there are two separate terms available to further clarify the scene. One could say "Lynne is Hanna's devrani" (if Lynne is the wife of a younger brother of Hanna's husband) or "jethani" (wife of an older brother).

While these two words from Hindi aren't part of the English language (yet), there are many others we've borrowed from numerous languages to fill the gaps. This week we'll feature five of them.

schadenfreude (SHAAD-n-froi-duh) noun

Pleasure derived from others' misfortunes.

[From German Schadenfreude, from Schaden (damage, harm) + Freude (joy).]

See more usage examples of schadenfreude in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

"He (Bob Carr) would be only human to feel a touch of Schadenfreude if his state's problems were to cost Latham the election."
Miranda Devine; The Pressure is on Latham; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Sep 2, 2004.

"Part of the attraction of the first seasons was Schadenfreude -- the joy in watching filmmakers suffer and struggle when they got their big chance. As the New York Sun newspaper put it in a headline 'Bad Film = Good TV'."
Peter Henderson; Reality TV 'Project Greenlight' Has New Goal: Money; Reuters; Aug 6, 2004.


Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue. -Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

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