The question explains itself I hope.

Mein Fuß ist eingeschlafen (* my foot slept in, fell asleep)

This would be said if you sat on your foot too long so that it becomes numb.

This is of course an absurd figure of speech1. Its derivation should be questionable.

From the little I know about the language, I suppose a genetic relation between Schlaf and schlaff would be difficult to account for. The etymology of Schlaf is relatively uncertain, without comparable cognates, incongruent with PIE *swep- and *ses- "sleep" that show up elsewhere in Indo-European languages. Likewise, the come about of geminates like -ff- is relatively uncertain. In any event, the comparison is not completely unreasonable, cp. e.g.: schleifen, -schliff-; streifen (i.e. glatt streifen, of bed sheats), straff, entirely uncertain Straf- (cf. Gk. strepho, versus Strophe, and Richterspruch, Tenor, etc., IMHO).

The semantics match well, so that the comparison surely has been drawn before. In extreme cases, a hand that has been layed on can be so numb that it hangs completely limp, whereas the less severe cases only result in a prickling sensation whereby the association to schlaff might not be apparent.

The pertinent question then is if the idiom followed only after sleep had been established, or if it was rather a parallel development from a common root that schlaff somehow diverged from for reasons that should elucidate schlaf- as well. The prefixing, einge-, should be considerable as well.

1: To address comments who disagree, I mean it is an anthrpomorphism, in a sense. There is no active form schläft and the tired limb is not said to wake up either. Schlaf is also used as euphemism as the cousin of death²

2: Thinking about a closer relationship between sleep and corpses, i.e. German Leiche, I have to note the complicated correspondances that involve sanft, sacht, En. soft (by Nasal Spirant Law), Kraft, Nl. kraaft (?), lache, En. laughter (??), leicht, Lat. levis, also lupfen, En. to lift, maybe lüften (of skirts?), and of course legen, liegen, sich hinlegen (substandard palatilized leng, cp. also sich lang machen).

  • 1
    Your post is difficult to understand. I'd like to point out that English has the exact same expression.
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 13:01
  • 1
    "This is of course an absurd figure of speech." - I am not sure what you are trying to express here or what this statement is supposed to refer to. Surely, the expression "Mein Fuß ist eingeschlafen." itself is completely straightforward, in the sense that not the entirety of the person has fallen asleep (= transitioned into some kind of temporarily inactive state), but just a part of the body. I wouldn't even call it a "figure of speech", as there is nothing figurative about it. But then what exactly is absurd? Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 15:23
  • Good question: "But then what exactly is absurd?" I have chosen my wording precisely because I was sure somebody would disagree with my sentiment, and I chose "absurd" because absurd is absurd. About the idiom being absurd: It is an anthropomorphism in my humble understanding, which is inherently absurd. That's not to be understood in the chief negative sense. Essentially, I meant it's comical, I guess, cp. Absurdes Theater, or you could say abstracted, figurative. Sleep is characterized by loss of consciousness, but feet are not sentient for a start, and they don't wake up either.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 13:23
  • And yet when a limb falls asleep, you can temporarily lose feeling in it, as well as motor control. The metaphor is appropriate, and I really don't think there's a need to look for a different origin. (Also, English has the same metaphor. And according to Wikipedia the medical term is "Obdormition", from Latin "obdormire", which also means to fall asleep. Though both of these might be derived from the German phrase in turn.) Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 14:38
  • @SebastianRedl, that's barely correct and a nonsecutor. The sensation is usually associated is a light to unpleasant prickling tinge. Cases of complete loss of feeling and motor control are likely medical conditions. That the metaphor is appropriate doesn't follow anyway, but that wasn't in question anyway. That's one step away from calling it correct or incorrect. If you want to be critical, consider that the sense is passive--loss of function--expressed with an active--antropomorphic--metaphor. Therefore the passive aspect inherent in participitive (er)schlafft matches.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


According to Pfeiffers Etymologisches Wörterbuch schlaff and schlafen have no direct relationship, but rather a (probably unexpected) common root in Lappen (rag).

  • This is interesting, because Lappen might imply an n-stem, which is historically difficult. Although, cp. clothes (or bed sheats). Besides, with limp in mind, consider further Lumpen. If I may insinuate, by the way, your lack of mentioning it implies that you cannot confirm the supposed derivation for the idiom in question regardless of the stems origin whatsoever?
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 2:14

schlaff is an augmentative iterative of Schlaf (cf. siech vs. Sucht).

I'd like to note that the online version of the Duden indicates a direct etymological relationship of schlaff and Schlaf.

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    Welcome to German.SE. Which source did you use/can someone else use to read about your knowledge? Can you please quote the relevant part? Is it linkable? Thanks. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 16:08

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