The politician has been filmed tripping over, the footage is all over social media, and all you can do is cringe. A child has just indelicately pointed out how big your boss’ nose is. You schämst dich fremd.
Composed of fremd, ‘foreign, external’, and schämen, ‘to be ashamed’, the term denotes the embarrassment you feel for someone who has embarrassed themselves. Fremdschämen is when you feel uncomfortable or awkward, because another person has created an embarrassing situation.
It can perhaps be considered the antonym for the famous German term, Schadenfreude (feeling pleasure at someone else’ pain).
Als du das gesagt hast, habe ich mich fremdgeschämt.
When you said that, I felt embarrassed for you.
Fremdschämen ist ein ganz selbstverständliches Gefühl.
To feel second-hand embarrassment is a totally natural feeling.
Do you have a favourite word you'd like to see us cover? If so, please email our editor Rachel Stern with your suggestion.