Cute teenagers, song and dance routines, even Britney Spears — this is “Glee’s” moment in the sun. We want to take this same moment to illuminate some of the unusual senses of “glee” (like what it has to do with schadenfreude.)
Sure, one definition of glee is “open delight or pleasure.” The word is also used to refer to an unaccompanied part song for three or more voices, which are usually male and include a countertenor. This kind of song was popular in the 18th century. It was characterized by several short sections of contrasting character or mood. And the songs were often about eating and drinking. John Playford was the first composer to use the term.
Glee Clubs, which got their start in England, traditionally sing short songs. Nowadays, most American glee clubs no longer perform glees.
Another unsavory sense of the word is “feeling pleasure caused by another person’s misfortune. Who knew that “glee” was a near-synonym for the amazing concept schadenfreude, “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.”