welt·​schmerz ˈvelt-ˌshmerts How to pronounce weltschmerz (audio)
often capitalized
: mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state
: a mood of sentimental sadness

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The word weltschmerz initially came into being as a by-product of the European Romanticism movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A combining of the German words for "world" (Welt) and "pain" (Schmerz), weltschmerz aptly captures the melancholy and pessimism that often characterized the artistic expressions of the era. The term was used 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 the middle of the 19th century.

Examples of weltschmerz in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The doctor suspected ennui, which in some cases can turn into weltschmerz. Star Tribune, 16 May 2021 The Germans gave us schadenfreude, or experiencing pleasure in the misfortune of others, and my personal favorite: weltschmerz. John Warner, chicagotribune.com, 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, 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, 16 Feb. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'weltschmerz.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


German, from Welt world + Schmerz pain

First Known Use

1864, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of weltschmerz was in 1864


Dictionary Entries Near weltschmerz

Cite this Entry

“Weltschmerz.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weltschmerz. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

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