On the radar: firgun
Imagine you’re checking Facebook one day, and you spot a post from a friend gleefully announcing their big promotion. How do you feel?
Envious, perhaps? Jealous? Both would be quite understandable reactions. To feel discontented or resentful when faced with someone else’s good luck or achievements is a common (and dare we say it, even expected?) human response.
But what if you actually felt a warm glow of happiness on your friend’s behalf? A rush of unselfish delight at their success?
In that case, what you would be feeling is firgun.
Firgun could be described as the opposite of schadenfreude – another word borrowed into English which has no direct translation. It comes from Hebrew, and is used to describe a feeling of genuine enjoyment and pleasure in another person’s success. Firgun developed from the Yiddish word ‘farginen’, which means ‘to wish well; not begrudge, not envy’. Farginen, in turn, comes from the German word vergönnen, meaning ‘to grant’ or ‘to not begrudge someone something’.
Firgun is a fairly new word, first used in Hebrew in the 1970s. Initially, Hebraic purists were not keen on allowing such a Yiddish-influenced word to enter the language unchallenged. However, just as in English, there was no Hebrew alternative, only unwieldy phrases which lacked the pithy impact of a single word.
Firgun quickly established itself in Hebrew, before making its entry into English in the 1990s. The first evidence of its use in English in our databases comes from 1994, in an interview with the entrepreneur and businessman Benny Landa in The Jerusalem Report, where he complained of ‘an absolute lack of firgun’ in the Israeli business community.
Recently it gained a wider prominence when used by the rugby player and England captain Dylan Hartley, who, in the wake of his own exclusion from the British Lions squad, tweeted congratulations to his rivals and teammates, before signing off with the hashtag #firgun. Hartley’s ability to put aside his personal disappointment and find joy in his rivals’ achievement was greatly admired – seen as representing the very epitome of firgun.
— Dylan Hartley (@DylanHartley) April 19, 2017
Right now, there is too little evidence of firgun in our databases to warrant a place in the dictionary. But I think we can all agree that the world could do with a bit more unselfish joy, so why not cast out the green-eyed monster and spread a little firgun yourself?