Fremdscham (German)

Embarrassment felt on behalf of someone else (often someone so ignorant to what they have done that they don’t know that they should be embarrassed for themselves); vicarious embarrassment.

Word donated by Glenn


  • Posted by Jan

    Nice one! “die Fremdscham” is the noun describing the phenomenon, and “das Fremdschämen” describes the process of being ashamed for sb., and there is also “sich fremdschämen”, a reflexive verb, which perfectly conveys that the shame felt falls back on oneself and is felt for the other person by the guy who is shamed for the other one….

  • Posted by Glenn Jericho

    Jan-

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the reflexive before, although it would have been a more precise phrase to have used in the context I was first exposed to the word. Very interesting!

    Do you know if it’s a divisible verb? Not being a native speaker, both “Ich schäme mich fremd” and “Ich fremdschäme mich” sound slightly ridiculous to me ;)

  • Posted by Mariana

    In spanish, we say “pena ajena”

  • Posted by Mirthe

    In Dutch, we call it ‘plaatsvervangende schaamte’.

  • Posted by SD

    Glenn, it is indeed a divisible verb:
    “Ich schäme mich fremd”
    But I think at least the verb can be translated in an understandable way – English speakers would certainly understand “I am ashamed for someone else.”

  • Posted by Archlurps

    Funny how the best known German untranslatable word (to English) is Schadenfreude, and here we have another actually useful psychology-related untranslatable German word.

    There is a Finnish equivalent to this too, by the way, “myötähäpeä”. Seems to be a translation from the German, though, as it’s a compound word that literally means something like “sympathetic shame”.

  • Posted by swanpride

    To cut in there…it actually simply “fremdschämen”, no German would say “Fremdscham” or “Ich schäme mich fremd.” That’s because it’s a fairly new word, coined during one of the seasons of the German version of the Idol Franchise (named “Deutschland sucht den Superstar”), which expressed the feeling of the jury about the performance of some of the people who tried to participate. It actually descripes the feeling someone gets when someone acts so idiotic, that it stops being funny to watch him fail and you instead feel uncomfortable.

    Glenn: The most common phrases would be “Da muss man sich ja fremdschämen.” or “Da konnte ich mich nur fremdschämen.”

  • Posted by Celia

    In Spain “vergüenza ajena”.

  • Posted by Jagannath link dump: reviews, interviews, essays « Karin Tidbeck

    [...] pillow (normally a pillow Swedes hide their faces behind while watching something that induces Fremdscham, but also handy for when assaulted by too many [...]

  • Posted by Frio

    There’s a subset of reddit devoted to this feeling, and they call it “cringe.” Not sure if the majority of English speakers would associate the word with this specific context though.

  • Posted by Apparently Bi-weekly Round-Up of Recent Releases: Wild Nothing, Savages, Akron/Family, Purson, Still Corners, Shannon Wright, more | Bone Rolling Reviews

    [...] face it… it’s kind of terrible. “The Bubblemen Rap” is one of the most fremdscham-inducing “raps” ever recorded by white people. It borders on racist parody. The entire [...]

  • Posted by Netflix Follies — Terminator 2: Judgement Day | NERD HURDLES PODCAST

    [...] biker-gear and “Bad To The Bone” plays (a clichéd music cue even by 1990), the Fremdsham for all involved in the project is palpable. There’s also the moment when he takes the bar [...]

  • Posted by Day 244 – #51. The Blood Brothers – Crimes « One Record Per Day

    […] which follows at track 3. But for me, it just doesn’t hold up anymore. It’s the one screaming Fremdscham on the record (whereas a song like “Wolf Party” on side B is more of a shrugful “meh’). […]

  • Posted by Mike

    swanpride: “Fremdscham” is in fact used, even tho “fremdschämen” is more used. Oldest usage of this that I can remember was in the early 2000th (around 2001), so it’s not new, maybe not used everywhere.

  • Posted by Anonymous

    @Glenn: fremdschämen can only be used reflexively. You can say “Ich fremdschäme mich.” but not “Ich schäme mich fremd”. Fremdschämen is a compound word (fremd + schämen) but it is not a divisible verb.

  • Posted by kush

    there is not any antonyms and synonyms

  • Posted by Melissa

    The scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the Johnny Depp version), when he says ‘good morning star shine, the Earth says hello’ gives me the fremdscham feeling so intensely. I really wish there was a word for it in English

  • Posted by Jock

    The English verb “to cringe”expresses the sentiment of Fremdenscham very precisely and intelligibly .Too often we get infatuated with foreign words at the expense of perfectly adequate English ones because we think they lend a sense of sophistication to the user.My favourite example is the German word ” angst” which people seem to use with gay abandon.The English word ” anxiety” generally does a much better job.
    Unfortunately german speakers,in Germany particularly in the media, now pepper their everyday speech with so much English ,it drives various relatives and friends of mine crazy.The use of English terminology,especially of a technical nature,is reminiscent of German vocabulary used in academia in the pre war years in fields such as philosophy,theology and various scientific fields.The English language has now superseded german as the language of choice for research,business etc.It is where the action is.
    Schadenfreude ,however,remains untranslatable !

  • Posted by Justin

    I googled this feeling because of the new Verizon commercials. The woman that doesn’t tweet, she twerks… yeah, I felt so embarrassed for her and that whole situation. Verizon made me learn a new word today.

  • Posted by My 30 Most Mundane Fears | nihilisticle

    […] Fremdscham. […]

Leave a Reply