The Germans have a lot of good words; words like schadenfreude, gesundheit, and zeppelin. Schlimmbesserung is another, and like schadenfreude, it has no English equivalent. Enjoyment taken from the misfortune of others–schadenfreude–seems a comically German sentiment. Schlimmbesserung is perhaps no less so, meaning, to make things worse through an effort to improve.
Schadenfreude has gained a lot of traction in the English-speaking world in the last few years. Now I think it’s schlimmbesserung’s turn.
While it doesn’t have the same Jerry Lewis-ness of schadenfreude, schlimmbesserung is truly a word for our times. We live in an age of schlimmbesserung. Whether it’s the disappearance of CD stores thanks to the advancement of digital technology, plastic cars equipped with airbags that kill you, or dumping more money onto a failing economy, a word like schlimmbesserung can really come in handy these days. It really is too bad we don’t have our own version, but then we’d probably screw it up and start misusing as meaning “awesome” or something.
The Germans would probably get a kick out of that.