Consider the words guru, detente, glasnost, pundit, gravitas and schadenfreude. Each of them, in their time, was an obscure foreign-derived word that, suddenly, gained such currency that even the modestly educated came to bandy them about with regularity and confidence.
The English language is blessed with a vast vocabulary that can combine to describe almost any human thought. So, when a foreign word rises to such quick prominence, its useful succinctness may often be catching a spirit of its time. (Dare I say a zeitgeist?)
"Guru" became popular in the 1960s as young people were seeking guidance for finding the meaning of life, etc. "Detente" and "glasnost" each became the emblems of international relations in their times.
The Hindu derived "pundit" seems to have flourished recently with the rise of cable television -- which employs so many pundits (allegedly wise men) that it quickly debased the meaning and became almost an epithet.
"Gravitas" arose as a term of comparative contempt for the perceived lightness of contemporary politicians. (There were giants once. Or at least we think there were.)
Recently, I have noticed that I am increasingly hearing and reading "schadenfreude" from the lips and pens of people usually more comfortable with simpler and more wholesome words. Sure enough, when I googled the word, I got 425,000 hits in .06 seconds. It turns out there are websites dedicated to the word and various organizations, such as comedy troops named for it.
Upon brief reflection it seemed to me that perhaps we are living in a period in which schadenfreude tends to characterize people's thoughts more than it ought to.
Gaining pleasure from the suffering of others is, at best, a dark pleasure. One could make a case that it reflects a neurotic or even pathological personality trait akin to sadism. It is true that most of us tend to judge our condition relative to the conditions of most other people. We are naturally pleased if we are better than average in some category.
But it is a far healthier mentality if we have gained our advantage by having uplifted ourselves, rather than to be the mere beneficiaries of some other poor soul's degradation or failure.
So, if our current politics are generating larger quantities of schadenfreude, we would expect to be seeing more failure than success. There is no better example of this phenomenon than last week's French and Dutch votes on the E.U. constitution. Particularly the French.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.