Word of the Day – “schleifen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day, this time with a quick look at meaning of



Schleifen is related to der Schleim (slime) and slip. But it’s not as slimy as slime and not as sexy as slip…. uh… I mean, slippery.
Spring is messing with my mind. Though … actually … some slips do have a Schleifen, and they’re quite sexy. I’ll post a selfie later.
But first let’s talk some vocab…

So, the origin of it all is the unnecessarily ancient Indo-European root *(s)lei- and the core idea of it was something like sliding, smearing across a surface.
And that’s actually pretty much what schleifen is about. But unlike the English to slip, which is rather quick, schleifen is kind of a drag. Like… literally. If something schleifen that means it is pulled across a surface and there’s some resistance.

Those were two very literal examples, but it’s also super common in context of mechanics and two moving parts touching that shouldn’t touch. And it also works in more abstract contexts.

But this still isn’t all you can do with schleifen. You see, when you drag something across a surface, the you might take small parts off the surface, right? And that’s why schleifen is also the word for sharpening blades. You slide-drag the Schleifstein (whetstone) across the blade. And another example is abschleifen which is what you do with the surface of old wooden planks.

Oh and in case you payed really close attention, you might have noticed that we’re having two ge-forms (past participles). Geschleift is what you use for dragged and geschliffen is sharpened.
And  I want to take this opportunity to say “Thank you.” to German. Thank you German, that it’s not three.
“You’re welcome, I’m trying to help wherever I can.”
And we appreciate you for it.
So now that we know schleifen let’s take a look at the related words. And this time, I don’t mean prefix versions. I mean the family.
Hm… I feel like this would be the perfect spot to put a a GIF.

We’ve already learned that it comes from a root that was about gliding, sliding across a surface and that it’s related to slime and slide.
Well… there’s more. For instance the word slimak, which is the Russian word for snail, and which is a pretty great visual image for the idea of the root.
Then, we have the English slope, sleeve and slick and and slight. And even though they kind of come from all over the place, the original idea of gliding over a surface is kind of visible.
But that’s not all. Another member of the family is the German verb schleichen. 
Originally, it was about moving somewhere in a gliding fashion, kind of like a snake but over time, it shifted toward the fact that the movement is quiet. And so it become the German word for to sneak (in the sense of moving yourself, not putting something somewhere)

And that’s still not all. The next word I want to mention is schlicht which is a word for simple in the sense that there’s not much “extra”. Like… not much decoration.

The original idea of schlicht was something like flat, straight for a surface. A surface that you can easily glide over :)
And this notion of even, straight also helps with the meaning of schlichten which is to mediate, arbitrate in context of calming down disputes and arguments. You “even” the waves, if that makes sense.

Now, the story how Maria and her unicorn got into that bad fight is actually quite interesting and I’d love to tell you about it, but I think most of you are having a hard time concentrating right now because there’s one question in your mind. And the answer is: yes :).
Schlecht, the German word for bad, is also a member of the family.
And the connection is actually quickly made. Schlecht was the same as schlicht once, so it meant simple, “without decoration”. Now, rich people always tended to have a somewhat not schlicht lifestyle. Like… the dress of the princess would have lots of complicated embroideries while the dress of the farm girl was… well super schlicht. And so it’s no wonder schlecht got associated with poor. And from there, it shifted to the idea of low quality and bad.

Oh … wait. She can do, not she has. I think she doesn’t actually have any. But I can ask her if you want. I think she doesn’t actually have any. But I can ask her if you want. I think she doesn’t actually have any. But I can ask her if you want. I think she doesn’t actually…. oh … oh shit…. the phone, we have a call here, Alex from Colorado, welcome to the show.
“Duuuude, what happened? You kept repeating yourself.”
I … I don’t know. I must have been caught in a time loop. Thanks for breaking it.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I wanted to ask about Schleifen, you mentioned in the beginning. Can that be a noun?
Ohhh, right, right. Yes, German has the noun die Schleife. What comes to mind first is this:

But it can also mean ribbon or even loop.

Now, this looks extremely similar to the verb schleifen but it actually comes from the word die Schlaufe, which is a kind of a more general term for these yarn-circles. The origin of it is suuuuuuuper ancient Indo-European root (s)leu which was about … gliding, slipping into something.  Which sounds AWFULLY similar to the root (s)lei- and it’s notion of gliding smearing. Hmmmmm… the etymology books I use don’t explicitly mention a connection.
But those books also don’t explicitly mention that there are tomatoes in my fridge.
And yet there ARE.
drops mic

picks up mic

And that’s it for today :). This was our look at schleifen and to boil it down to one example… schleifen is what your bike brakes do on the wheel sometimes.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.



Test yourself on schleifen!

1 / 6

What is the core notion of “schleifen”? (NOT just a translation)

2 / 6

Which sentence uses the correct past form of schleifen?

3 / 6

What’s the German verb for  “to sneak”?

4 / 6

How do you say “Not bad.” in German?

5 / 6

What’s the German word for a ribbon bow on a present?

6 / 6

What are the kids learning in this sentence:

 Die Kinder lernen, wie man eine Schleife macht.” ?

Your score is



for members :)

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Wayne R. McKinney

In Americanski brakes drag, gears grind.


Yes in Britishese too, at least while there is still meat on the brake pads. Once that’s gone and the calipers are rubbing the discs, that would be grinding.


Also “catching”.

Anne Knight
Anne Knight

Ah, erm, Emmanuel, Unicorns are not meat eaters, they don’t have prey, they are prey. .They are in the family of Equus. The horn is just for protection. How do I know? I know, immaginary animals, but still~!! My profession is horse training. I can’t help myself~!!


I see the complexity even as a born German who received his education in Germany. Never really thought about it since all the kids I grew up with spoke the language.


Is mitschleifen idiomatic for “to drag someone along”, or would you just use schleifen? Z.B., meine Frau hat mich zum Schlagerkonzert mitgeschleift.


I!be been in this country for a most 70yrs , so my German is a little rusty. I liked your explanation of schleim.I hope to read more . Ilse from Ffm m


Does the English “Slight” as in “She was dark and slight, meaning, small and slim with a brown complexion”, fit with “Schlecht”, not much of it? And what about “slight” as an insult?


Looks like you’re right on: https://www.etymonline.com/word/slight


slimak is actually a Ukrainian word for snail :) slizen’ I believe is what they call a snail in Russia.
Oh and I’d actually love to have that **VOCAB** thing in the end of posts like this, it’s really helping to generalise all the details about the word and its relatives!
Anyway, thanks for explaining!!


Victoria: I’m half Ukrainian (grew up Stateside) and we (Ukie-speaking kids) called snails “slimak” but I always thought it was an anglification (slime = slimak). My grandmother, who actually came from the Ukraine, always said, “tixoxid” (impossible to write Uki words in Roman letters…) which funnily enough translates sorta to – “quietly walk”, or “it which walks quietly”, “tixo” being quiet and “xid” being sorta like, steps or walking. Difficult to explain – the slavic languages are so rich – it’s difficult to describe the entire Gefühl in a little tiny word. Anyway… nice to see someone else actually knows that Ukies exist.


Slimak is from Proto-Slavic *slimakъ. In Polish ślimak. Connection to “slime” might be even earlier (indoeuropean?).

Clint Swift
Clint Swift

These articles are great. They help me deal with the reality that many words in any language have multiple meanings. In return, I’d like to offer a tip from a native English speaker. Given how you used “nauseous” in this article, you should look at the difference between “nauseous” and “nauseated.” Thanks again for another very helpful article.


Schlicht can also mean slick in English, as in neat, cool (the flower arrangement). Also, We talk about smoothing ruffled feathers or calming the waves (schlichten).


Hello Emanuel,
Can you please do the word ‘Teufel and ‘Heule’ i have seen while watching netflix in normal conversation these two words pretty much used like a slang often


Hi Emanuel,
I remember writing you the first time about my eagerness to learn German and you were more than just helpful towards me. After approximately 5 months, reading your Word of the Day articles and many lectures, I can definitely assert that you enlightened my path through German. I finally earned my A2 German certificate thanks to you. I want you to know that I am more than grateful for your contributions !
Love learning with you.Ich wünsche Ihnen noch einen schönen Tag !


Das ist ein guter, vielen Dank wie immer. Also, er schleift sich aus dem Bett. Right? But getting out of bed can be a real “drag” (bother). Apparently not a “Schleife” auf deutsch… And I guess you don’t take a “Schleife” (drag) on a cigarette either. Schleppen must fit in there somewhere, is it related too?
Schönen Urlaub!


Schlepp is Yiddish for draging something. Usually meaning unwillingly or something heavy. A Schleprock is a lazy/slow person, one that drags his ass, sorta.

Academically, I know Yiddish and Deutsch are related, but hearing the Deutsch words on which the Yiddish are based usually makes me giggle. Dunno why. Germans „nosh“ as well.


I would like to thank ALL the members who pay extra, it is because of them that I now have access for a year to all the material. This opportunity given to me would not have been possible had it not been for all of you. I really enjoy learning German from this website because EVERYTHING is so easy to understand. Within a year, I will make sure my German has GREATLY improved. Thank you all, again.


Exactamundo! It’s just that die Deutschen spell it wrong – Haha! nosh or naschen – same same but different.


ніж (nizh or nozh – both are OK). The “sh” in the Bulgarian “nosh” is more of a zh. “ж” is a letter you need to ask a slavic person to pronounce. I think the Bulgarian pronunciation of that letter is the same as the Ukrainian.

Michael T
Michael T

slippage, (s)loop, Schlupf
A ribbon is slipknot which is a loop

slide, sled, sledge, sleigh, sleight