noun, often capitalized
welt·​schmerz | \ ˈvelt-ˌshmerts How to pronounce weltschmerz (audio) \

Definition of weltschmerz

1 : mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state
2 : a mood of sentimental sadness

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Did You Know?

The word weltschmerz initially came into being as a by-product of the Romanticism movement in Europe of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The poets of the Romantic era were a notably gloomy bunch, unwilling or unable to adjust to those realities of the world that they perceived as threatening their right to personal freedom. "Weltschmerz," which was formed by combining the German words for "world" ("Welt") and "pain" ("Schmerz"), aptly captures the melancholy and pessimism that often characterized the artistic expressions of the era. The term was coined in German by the Romantic author Jean Paul (pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) in his 1827 novel Selina, but it wasn't adopted into English until nearly 50 years later.

Examples of weltschmerz in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Germans gave us schadenfreude, or experiencing pleasure in the misfortune of others, and my personal favorite: weltschmerz. John Warner, chicagotribune.com, "Got a bad case of tsundoku? Don't let it get you down.," 28 Mar. 2018 As in the original, the orchestra (fluidly led, as usual, by Rob Berman) is visibly perched above the action, pouring out weltschmerz-laden melodies that flow like a thick, high-proof dessert wine. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: Divine Decadence Revisited in ‘Grand Hotel’," 22 Mar. 2018 Schuman’s bildungsromanchannels the weltschmerz of a former wunderkind rejected by the professoriat and exiled to the creative lumpenproletariat. Gabriel Roth, Slate Magazine, "A conversation with Rebecca Schuman about German humor, Kafka, and her new book Schadenfreude: A Love Story.," 16 Feb. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'weltschmerz.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of weltschmerz

1864, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for weltschmerz

German, from Welt world + Schmerz pain

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Time Traveler for weltschmerz

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The first known use of weltschmerz was in 1864

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Cite this Entry

“Weltschmerz.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weltschmerz. Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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