Fremdschämen

The German language seems to reflect a cultural desire for accuracy and precision

The German language is a delightful one, reveling in the construction of compound words that succinctly convey a lot of information in just a few consonants. You might be familiar with the German term schadenfreude — a compound of schaden, “harm”, and freude, “joy” — a term represents a complex emotion, wherein finds joy in another’s misfortune (think of it in relation to the English word, “comeuppance”).

A similar but less familiar word is fremdschämen, — a compound of fremd, “external”, and schämen, “shame.” This word represents the feeling of shame one experiences over the actions of another, essentially vicarious embarrassment. You can think of this term as similar to the term “cringe-worthy” in our modern vernacular.