Word of the Day – “streichen”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: April 7, 2022

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And today, we’ll have a look at the meaning of



And the meaning of life is… uh…  wait… it’s …  uhm… damn it!  It was something with being or something… but I can’t find it right now.
So I guess our look at meaning of life is canceled.
Let’s instead look at the meaning of



Streichen is related to the English word to strike, and by looks and sound, the resemblance is striking (*cue crickets). By meaning not so much though. There, it is much closer to the verb to stroke.
Because the core idea of streichen is to move something somewhat gently across a surface. And there’s a quite a bit that you can do with that idea.

One possible translation is of course to stroke but streichen has somewhat of a direction to it. The word for the caressing-stroking is streicheln.

  • Thomas streicht Maria über den Rücken, während sie schläft.
  • Thomas strokes Maria across the back, while she is sleeping
  • Thomas streichelt Maria den Rücken, während sie schläft.
  • Thomas is stroking Maria’s back, while she is sleeping.
  • Im Streichelzoo darf man die Tiere streicheln.
  • In the petting zoo you’re allowed to pet the animals.

Now, you’ve probably have noticed the blue preposition in the first example and maybe you’re wondering why I highlighted them. Well… we need it 

  • Thomas hat Maria den Rücken gestrichen, während sie geschlafen hat.

That wasn’t loving. That was actually a pretty bad party prank and Maria was really really pissed when she went to the bathroom. Why? Because Thomas painted her back.
Streichen is THE word for to paint (in functional contexts,  so not for art-sy painting).  You move a brush across a surface.

  • Ich muss die Küche streichen, oder ich kriege meine Kaution nicht wieder.
  • I have to paint the kitchen or I won’t get back my deposit.
  • Achtung frisch gestrichen.
  • Caution, wet paint. (lit.: freshly painted)

Now, just like you move a brush across a surface, you also move a pen across the surface. And that’s the key to the next meaning of streichen. Take a looks at this example:

  • Wegen dem Rücken-Streich hat Maria Thomas für zwei Wochen Sex gestrichen.

That doesn’t mean that she made sex more colorful. She basically did this: sex.  She canceled it. Oh and by the way, der Streich is the German word for prank. But it had (and still has to some extend) the same general meaning that strike has… a (very) quick, hard stroke. Sounds like the old Germanic tribes had a very hands-on approach to pranking.
Anyways, so yeah… streichen is also used in the sense of canceling or cutting. It’s a bit formal sounding though, so you’ll most likely see it in the news.

  • Der Chef will den freien Kaffee streichen.
  • The boss wants to cut/scrapes free coffee.
  • Wegen der Finanzkrise hat die Firma 100 Stellen gestrichen.
  • Because of the crisis the company cut 100 positions.

Now, of course streichen also has prefix versions but there are really only a few that matter and they’re super intuitive, so let’s just look at some examples

  • Das Wort das Zebra ist durchgestrichen.
  • The word zebra is crossed out.
  • Ich unterstreiche das wichtige Wort verbal.
  • I underline the important word verbally.
  • Die Musik unterstreicht die Stimmung sehr gut.
  • The music underlines the mood very well.
  • Der Lehrer streicht den Fehler an.
  • The teacher marks the mistake by putting a little line there.

And this whole notion of lines brings us right over to the noun der Strich.

By itself is Strich is basically the result of moving a pen over a surface in a somewhat straight line.

  • In der Mitte von diesem Beispiel – gibt es einen Bindestrich.
  • In the middle of this example – the is a hyphen (lit.: binding-stroke/line)
  • Thomas malt ein Strichmännchen auf Marias Rücken.
  • Thomas is painting a stick man on Maria’s back.
  • Maria macht eine Strichliste, wie oft Thomas auf ihren Rücken malt.
  • Maria is making a tally (chart) of how often Thomas paints on her back.
    (is tally the proper word here? A Strichliste is this typical ||||  thing you do with a pen)

As you can see, the uses are pretty literal. For more abstract lines, like a bus line, walking in a  line or the red line, you’d use the word die Linie, but there are a few REALLY common idiomatic phrasings that use Strich.

  • Das Wetter macht uns einen Strich durch die Rechnung. 
  • The weather ruins our plans.
    (Lit.: “makes a line through our calculation”)
  • Unterm Strich ist wichtig, dass Lernen Spaß macht.
  • The bottom line is, it is important that learning is fun.
    (lit.: “below the line”)
  • Die Art, wie Lehrbücher Sprache unterrichten, geht mir gegen den Strich.
  • The way textbooks teach German rubs me the wrong way/goes against what I like.
    (is there a better, more idiomatic way to say this? “rub the wrong way” is a bit strong, I think)

Of course there are also a few nice compounds, but with what we’ve learned so far

  • “Deine Achseln riechen wie vegetarischer Brotaufstrich.”
    “Deine Vergleiche klingen wie Schlagsahne.”
  • “Your arm pits smell like vegetarian bread spread.”
    “Your comparisons sound like whipped cream.”
  • Der Frauenarzt macht einen Abstrich.
  • The gynecologist is taking a smear test.
  • Für den Preis muss man bei der Qualität Abstriche machen. (very common phrasing)
  • For that price you have to make concessions/ lower ones sights with regards to quality.

And then there’s the Strich in context of hookers. Yes, you read that right. Auf den Strich gehen is a very common phrasing for to prostitute oneself and the (Strassen)strich is the area where people do it.
The origin of that phrasing is actually an older meaning of streichen that we haven’t mentioned yet: the idea of walking around, traveling.
The verb itself isn’t used anymore, but the idea still lives on in the noun der Landstreicher (hobo, homeless person traveling) and the verb verstreichen, which is a rare alternative for vergehen in context of time passing.
And if you’re now wondering how that ties in with the rest… well, one way to make a connection is to think of traveling as a moving across the surface of the earth.
But there’s more. You see, the origin of the whole family is the super mega ancient Indo-European root *ster(e)- and the core idea of that root was something like stretching, spreading out, expanding. The stroking streichen has focused on the movement you’re making to spread something. But the noun Strich for instance does carry a notion of a line extending. Just like der Strand (beach) or der Strahl (the ray) and … drum roll please… street. Yes, street is actually a distant cousin to streichen and Strich as are lots of other words like structure or strategy. And I wanted to talk about all those connections in detail but … I think we have to streichen that. Like… cancel it.
“Boooooooooohhhhhhhhh… no meaning of life and now no etymology. Shame on you, Emanuel.”
I know, I know, but in this case, it’s better if we do that in the comments because it’s just too much. If you’re nerd enough, here’s the link to the root *stere on Etymonline … the part that’s unterstrichen is the link :).
And that’s it for today. This was our look at streichen. It’s about moving something about a surface and it can mean to paint as well as to cancel and it’s used in context of making lines with a pen.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try , just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.


** vocab **

streichen – to stroke (directed), cancel, paint (not art)
streicheln – stroke, caress
die Streicheleinheit – the unit of stroking (colloquial phrase for “a little active affection”)

unterstreichen (non-separable) – underline, emphasize
durchstreichen (separable) – to cross out
anstreichen – mark with a line, also: to paint
überstreichen (non-separable) – paint over

verstreichen – to pass (rare, used mostly for time)

der Strich (die Striche) – the line(s) (made by pen)
das Strichmännchen – the stick figure
die Strichliste – the tally list
die Strichzeichnung – the line drawing
der Bindestrich – the dash/hyphen
der Aufstrich – the bread spread
der Abstrich – the smear sample (medical)
Abstriche machen – make concessions

der Streich – the prank (sounds a bit more childish than prank)
der Staatsstreich – the state coup

der Landstreicher – the hobo

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