Q&A: Jealousy vs Envy

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week all of this jelly has us feeling envy…

Q: Hi AWC, it’s such a busy time of year.

A: That’s true. We went to four Christmas parties last week.

Q: Oh wow, four parties! So jelly…

A: No, they mainly served ice cream.

Q: I meant, I’m so jealous of the four parties!

A: Actually, it’s more accurate to say that you’re “envious”.

Q: Well we walked right into this week’s topic didn’t we?

A: So it seems. The words “jealousy” and “envy” certainly hail from the same neighbourhood – both conspiring to make you feel inadequate.

Q: I think Facebook might be located in that same part of town…

A: Haha, yes maybe. But these two words do have some clear differences.

Q: Such as?

A: Well, “envy” typically involves two parties and “jealousy” three parties or more.

Q: What? More parties I wasn’t invited to? I wish I could go. My best friend Bob always gets to go.

A: Well, by “parties” we meant “people”. But alright, let’s workshop this. So you’re envious of Bob right now – because he has an invite. Wanting something that someone else has is typical of “envy”.

Q: So how does “jealousy” differ?

A: Well, we heard that Bob was given a “plus one” and he chose to invite Hannah.

Q: What? Hannah gets to go to the party with Bob? Now I’m jealous.

A: Macquarie Dictionary defines jealousy as “resentment, suspicions or fears of rivalry”. It’s a subtle difference, but now the balance has shifted so that as well as wanting something, you’re now also worried something might get taken away from you. In this case, Hannah usurping you as Bob’s new bestie.

Q: Jealousy sucks.

A: Yep. Fear and rivalry are the key ingredients. And it’s common in relationships, workplaces, Shakespeare plays and basically any time that someone attractive moves in next door.

Q: Well… if you’re single and just admire your new neighbour’s fashion sense, it’s only envy, right?

A: That’s true. Only two parties involved.

Q: Arghh, thanks for reminding me. I’m still upset at Bob and Hannah.

A: Move on. It was a palindrome party. Ava, Anna and Pip also went. And your mum, dad and Otto from next door.

Q: Otto?

A: Yes. He just moved in. Great fashion sense.

Q: Haha. So a lot of people seem to say they’re jealous when they probably should be saying they’re envious, right?

A: Yes. These days, the trend seems to be to say “jealous”/”jelly” about envious situations. For example: “I’m so jealous that you get to leave work early tomorrow”. Or: “I’m jealous of you going overseas on your Instagram pilgrimage”.

Q: Both of those examples should have been “envious”?

A: Correct. Some even suggest it’s avoided because the word “envy” has a nastier “evil” vibe to it. So telling your friend that you’re envious of them just isn’t as joyfully passive aggressive as wobbly jelly.

Q: Okay, so, to recap – if I want what someone else has, it’s “envy”. If I’m worried someone is taking something of mine, it’s “jealousy”.

A: That’s a great way to think of it. Here’s another example. You’d have a feeling of envy if someone turned up to a casino with a million dollars to spend. But jealous if he flew away with your wife in a helicopter.

Q: You’re describing the plot to the 1993 film Indecent Proposal with Demi Moore and Robert Redford aren’t you?

A: Um, yes.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!


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