The Grammarphobia Blog

Schneidenfreude

Q: I often hear the term “schneid” used in reference to a losing streak in sports. What, pray tell, is a “schneid”?

A: The word “schneid” comes to baseball, football, basketball, and other sports from the term “schneider” in the world of card games.

The earliest reference to “schneider” in the Oxford English Dictionary, dating back to 1886, refers to skat, a popular card game in Germany. A losing player in skat is said to be “schneider” if he has no more than 30 points.

But the modern sports usage is believed to come from gin rummy, where a “schneider” refers to a game in which the loser doesn’t win a hand – that is, he’s shut out.

In sports, therefore, to be “on the schneid” means to be on a losing streak while to get “off the schneid” refers to breaking the streak.

The card term “schneider” is derived from the German word for tailor, according to the OED. Why a tailor?

Evan Morris, on his Word Detective website, speculates that someone who’s schneidered in gin is cut (as if by a tailor) from contention.

I’ve also seen speculation that “schneider” refers to a poor game in skat because tailors have a reputation for poverty. Not my tailor, however!

The up-to-date online version of the OED doesn’t have any published references for “schneid,” the sports term, but Morris believes the usage is “probably of fairly recent vintage.”

With that, it’s time for me to scat!

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