“Werner Herzog, who understands more than just about anyone the terror of a cold and irrational universe, got some mileage out of remaking Nosferatu in 1979 by keeping what worked in the novel and in Murnau’s 1922 film and leaning heavily into the vampire’s weltschmerz.”
—Kyle Daly, AVClub.com, 25 Oct. 2015
A feeling of sentimental sadness or pessimism; the weariness that comes with knowing that the world is going to let you down no matter what and there’s nothing you can do to stop it: this is what the Germans succinctly call Weltschmerz.
Weltschmerz, or literally “world-pain” or “world-weariness,” first appeared in German in 1827 and was born out of the melancholy and pessimistic Romantic literary movement taking place in Germany at the time. It was coined by the author Jean Paul—born Johann Paul Friedrich Richter—in his novel Selina, where he used it to refer to Lord Byron’s disaffected loathing for the world. The word was popularized by Heinrich Heine not long after, who moved the word’s meaning away from active loathing and toward sentimental apathy. Weltschmerz was borrowed into English in the 1860s and while it has lost its direct tie to 19th-century Romanticism, it does retain a bit of the formality of its original uses.