There is a German word you’re probably familiar with, “schadenfreude,” which roughly translates to “joy at the misfortune of others.” However, I’ve read (and heard from people better-educated in German than myself) that it’s not simply sadism; there’s a connotation of ironic justice delivered via minor misfortune or inconvenience. It’s the cop who pulled you over getting a flat tire. It’s when your neighbor who borrows your tools without asking, accidentally uses the hedge trimmer to slice their calf muscles. The Nazis might have had that “Master Race” thing completely backwards, but you could argue they spoke the master language. Anyone who doubts that should know that modern Deutsch slang for “a mobile/cell phone” is “ein handy.” I am not making that up, and it will never not be funny (yes, I am a 13-year-old boy trapped in an adult’s body).

I’m discussing this because we need a term to encapsulate the concept of, “Oh, that would usually happen to me; it’s hilarious when it happens to someone else.” Because I am an innovator in all things, I’ve taken the initiative to name this psychological phenomenon: schadendork. You’re welcome, Germany. In this particular case, it applies to my father; we’re pretty close and don’t bear each other any ill-will, but we’re not above laughing at one another’s minor misfortunes. In recent events, Dad fractured his neck, without any major nerve damage, but he has had to wear one of those neck braces constantly. This week, his doctors gave him the go-ahead to begin physical therapy. This is good; painful and unpleasant as PT is, you usually don’t get medical permission for it if you’re not on the mend. Now for the punchline; he was told by his physical therapist not to lift anything heavier than 5 lb (about 2 kg, for my friends in the free world). Even if you avoid physical activity like George Wendt, 5 lb is nothing (I used Mr. Wendt as an example for reasons we’ll get into very shortly). Large encyclopedias and/or med school textbooks weigh more. First-generation iPads weighed more.

On a hunch, Dear Old Dad weighed a six pack. A six-pack in America (that’s tinnies, not bottles, mind you) weighs more than five pounds. Which means, and here’s the schadendork part; selecting and purchasing beer is out for Dad in the immediate future. Which is a shame, because if there’s one medical ailment that would drive me to drink, it would be almost-but-not-quite able to respond to events happening just slightly to my right or left (thus, the opaque allusion to Norm from Cheers). At the same time, and I hope you’ll forgive me, Dad, I’m quietly sniggering because that’s the sort of minor humiliation/tragedy that’s defined my life. And I wouldn’t necessarily wish it upon anyone, but it’s the stuff of sit-coms when it’s happening to someone else (I’d also put in that if this were a permanent impediment instead of a month or two, I’d be all sympathy, but, the minor-yet-aggravating aspect is a key component of schadendork).

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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