Envy or jealousy—which is which?

01 Sep

Okay, once and for all, let’s explain the difference between jealousy and envy:

From Wikipedia: Jealousy is an emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, such as a relationship, whether friendship or love. Jealousy often consists of a combination of emotions such as anger, sadness and disgust. It is not to be confused with envy.

Jealousy is associated with that which we have and which we guard with all our might to keep. We cannot be jealous of something someone else has—it’s impossible. Jealousy is the emotion that is generated when someone attempts to take away, to appropriate or to use inappropriately, something that we have. The emotion of jealousy raises its ugly head when our neighbor attempts to possess our house, our Mercedes-Benz and our wife, whether figuratively or literally. We will guard all three jealously—but not necessarily in that order.

From Wikipedia: Envy is best defined as an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it. It is not to be confused with jealousy.

Envy is that which we feel when we do not have that which another has and which we would like to have. Prime examples of envy would include our desire to possess our neighbor’s house, his Mercedes-Benz and his wife, but not necessarily in that order.

It’s impossible to envy something we already have. We envy others because they possess something we would like to have. We may envy our neighbor because his house is larger than ours, his Mercedes-Benz is newer than ours and his wife is prettier than ours—not necessarily in that order—but it is impossible for us to be jealous.

The difference between envy and jealousy is very simple and very easy to understand. Given that simplicity and ease of understanding, why do so many people misuse the terms? Is it because such people know the difference and don’t really care to be accurate in describing emotions? Or is it because their education is sadly lacking in the teaching and learning process of the usage of those two terms? In my experience the talking heads on television are the most frequent users of the terms envy and jealousy, and are by far the most consistent offenders of their definitions.

Alas—so many errors and so little time to correct them!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Family, Humor


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Envy or jealousy—which is which?

  1. Val Erde

    September 1, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I’m afraid I’m still confused by the two words. However, I used not to be confused by them. In the past few years my comprehension and retention of grammar and vocabulary has gone to the dogs. Blame that on the side effects of two prescribed medicines. And these days, on a failing memory.
    But – thank you for the explanation. I’ll return another time and try to figure it out!

    • thekingoftexas

      September 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      It’s easy—we envy others for what they have, and we jealously guard what we have. The terms are almost universally misused. Just as an aside, jealousy is not one of the cardinal sins, but envy is on the list, along with wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust and gluttony. Perhaps people subconsciously use jealous rather than envy to avoid committing a deadly sin.

      I checked out the “gone to the dogs” site you mentioned. I don’t want to argue with the Macmillan English Dictionary but I have some reservations about their explanation. In view of the Chinese people’s proclivity to dine on dog meat, a practice dating at least back to the year 500 BC—and that’s ancient—I should think that banishing people to the dogs would provide such persons with a constant source of subsistence, thus softening their banishment. Since dog meat was a delicacy, dogs were probably raised and pampered for slaughter. If they were outside the city they would not fare nearly as well, and would have to be hunted just as other wild animals were hunted.

      Thanks for visiting and for commenting.

  2. cindydyer

    September 2, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Excellent grammar lesson, King. I wish you would hire out as a consultant to the media and correct some of their mistakes! Hey, did you ever cover “bodily” in a posting? I forget if you did! Oh, and don’t forget to cover improper use of “dove,” if you haven’t already.


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