Trump Testing Positive for COVID Followed by Surge in Lookups, Use of 'Schadenfreude'

With President Donald Trump announcing that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, there's been a surge in the use of the word "schadenfreude."

Merriam-Webster reported that the word was its top lookup on Friday, following Trump's announcement. The dictionary website said that searches for the term shot up 30,500 percent.

The term is derived from the German words for "damage" ("schaden") and "joy" ("freude"). Merriam-Webster defines it as "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others."

The term began popping up in news reports, discussing reactions to Trump's diagnosis. USA Today had the headline: "President Donald Trump's coronavirus infection draws international sympathy and a degree of schadenfreude." The Chicago Tribune reported on world leaders offering the president their support and "some thinly-veiled schadenfreude" from others.

MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow also used it while likening Trump's positive test to a frequent smoker getting lung cancer. "Your instinct might be to blame them. Go right ahead, enjoy that Schadenfreude," she said, before calling for empathy.

Rachel Maddow, making the case for sympathy for Trump, compares him contracting covid to your friend getting lung cancer because they didn't quit smoking despite knowing the risks: "Your instinct might be to blame them. Go right ahead, enjoy that Schadenfreude." pic.twitter.com/T1pO03QT73

— Ibrahim (@Ibrahimpols) October 3, 2020

During a Friday monologue on The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert spoke about Merriam-Webster's report, before saying that he didn't partake in schadenfreude. "I, for one, take no pleasure in Donald Trump being sick, because like him or not-and for the record, not. He is the president. It's his job to run the country. That's a tough job for anybody, and now he's gotta do it while he's sick," the host said.

Besides the spike in searches and uses by major news outlets (and Colbert), the term began trending on Twitter, with people joking about having schadenfreude, as well as people criticizing those who reveled in Trump being diagnosed.

University of Twente applied philosophy assistant professor Nolen Gertz wrote a lengthy joke about the response to Trump having COVID, beginning with commentary on the sense of schadenfreude. A user joked and asked if it gave one a hangover.

The 7 Stages of Response to Trump having Coronavirus:
1) Feel schadenfreude
2) Feel bad for feeling schadenfreude
3) Feel dumb for feeling bad
4) Feel suspicious about this being a hoax
5) Feel worried this will help Trump win
6) Feel angry
7) Feel exhausted

— Nolen Gertz (@ethicistforhire) October 2, 2020

Can too much schadenfreude give you a hangover asking for a friend

— Professor Sarah Parcak (@indyfromspace) October 3, 2020

Other people criticized those who took pleasure in learning the news about Trump. Legal scholar Laurence Tribe wished the president and first lady well. "This is no time for cruelty, schadenfreude, or any other form of small-mindedness," he wrote. Political commentator Dinesh D'Souza said that people's schadenfreude has exposed people as "smarmy, soulless creatures."

I join in the chorus of those who wish a speedy and full recovery to President Trump, the First Lady, Hope Hicks, and all who were exposed to them in recent days. This is no time for cruelty, schadenfreude, or any other form of small-mindedness

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) October 2, 2020

Just think. When this is over, Trump will be in good health and back to his great, consequential life, but his gloating critics will still be the smarmy, soulless creatures their Schadenfreude has exposed them to be #TrumpCovid

— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) October 2, 2020

Still other people reacted with some indifference. Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle tweeted that he couldn't really feel schadenfreude, thinking that very little will actually be learned from Trump's COVID diagnosis.

hard to really get any proper schadenfreude when none of the obvious lessons will reach any of the people who need them

— The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) October 2, 2020

Newsweek reached out to Merriam-Webster via the contact form on its site to request comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on October 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for coronavirus. Getty/Drew Angerer