Occasionally, I come across a word that’s so rare and mysterious that it’s a struggle to find out anything about it.
This one turned up in an article in the Observer on 10 August by Lauren Laverne, who was looking for a word “for the mistaken belief that there is no English equivalent for a non-English word”. She noted Schadenfreude as an example of such a word, the pleasure that one derives from another person’s misfortune, which is from German Schaden, harm, and Freude, joy. She said an English equivalent does exist — epicaricacy. It does?
I tracked it down in Insulting English, by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea, dated 2001. They say that it’s from Greek epi, upon, plus chara, joy, and kakon, evil. It’s recorded in several old works, including Nathan Bailey’s An Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1721, though in the spelling epicharikaky. It is recorded even earlier in the original Greek spelling in Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621. It was familiar to him and to other Greek scholars because Aristotle used it.
So far as I can discover, a rare modern recognition of epicaricacy is in Joseph Shipley’s Dictionary of Early English of 1955. I’ve found it in just two other places — in the Times in May 2008 and in one novel:
Schadenfreude I know it is called. Or epicaricacy, as the English will have it. From the original Greek.
Retromancer, by Robert Rankin, 2009.
It’s an erudite coining known to hardly anybody. Novobatzky and Shea may have attracted enough attention to it that in time it might find a place in the language. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.