Word of the Day – “schenken”

schenkenHello everyone,

and welcome to our Word of the Day. And this time, we will look at the meaning of:


Schenkenis just great. It is nice and rewarding to be the one doing it (most of the time) and it’s a joy to be the one it is done to (again… most of the time).
And no.. it’s not THAT act.
But it’s still an act that is probably as old as humanity itself: the act of giving a present.

And even though it’s such an old basic human concept, English doesn’t really have its own word for it. Well… at least not one that’s actually used.
Technically, there are to present and to bestow and to gift, but as you can see here, those aren’t really idiomatic….

… and to give (as present) really is the most fitting translation in my opinion.
Let’s look at a few more examples…

It’s really quite a practical word. And Germans seem to really enjoy schenken, and so they also used it metaphorically for giving a few abstract things like Aufmerksamkeit, Beachtung or Vertrauen.

And that’s still not all. Sooner or later, you’ll probably come across schenken used with a self reference: sich (Dative) schenken. And that could very well be about the literal idea of giving a present to oneself. But it has a second meaning. One that can be quite confusing…

As you can see, the translation varies, but the core idea is that you “keep” something for yourself, or don’t even bother taking it. So, when someone tells you the following about a movie: “Das kannst du dir schenken.” then that is NOT a recommendation to watch it :).

Now, of course there are also a few related words we need to mention.
First of, the ge-form geschenkt , which literally means given as present, is often used with the idea of for free.

Which brings us right over the prefix version verschenken. The ver– adds its notion of away here and verschenken basically means give away for free. It’

Then, we have of course the noun das Geschenk, which is the present, the gift.

  • “Was ist das?”
    “Das ist dein Geburtstagsgeschenk.”
    “Ist das dein Ernst?!”
  • “What is that?”
    “That’s your birthday present.
    “Are you for real?!”

And then there is the verb einschenkenwhich means to pour in the sense of pouring a drink.
Wait, wait…. hold on.



Pouring a drink?!
Sounds strange, but it’s actually true.

  • Maria schenktden Wein ein.
  • Maria pours inthe wine.

I guess it makes sense if you think of the act of serving a drink as some sort of present. But that’s quite a surprising meaning.
But that’s nothing compared to the surprise you’ll have when you see which words schenken is related to. Behold:

  • der Schenkel– the shank
  • der Schinken– the ham
  • hinken– to limp

It’s virtually impossible to believe that these are all connected.
But they are.
The origin is the eerily ancient Indo-European root *(s)keng which meant inclined, tiltedor aslant.
The Schenkel (shank) has its name because it’s at an angle to the upper leg. The hamis called Schinken because it is mostly cut from the Schenkel of a pig and hinken (to limp) is to walk in a tilted fashion. These make a lot of sense, actually.
But what about schenken itself? Well, get ready for the final surprise of the day… because schenken, too, originally was about… pouring a drink. Which is usually done by tilting the bottle or jar, so there’s the connection to the original root.
This sense of pouring still lives on in einschenken, and we can also see it in words like Schankerlaubnis (alcohol license) or the old fashioned die Schänke (tavern, tabroom).
And schenken itself then indeed broadened from giving, gifting a drink to the act of gifting in general.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be one of the cutest word origins ever.
Etymology can really be a gift sometimes.
And on that note, I think we’ll wrap it up. This was our look at the meaning of schenken – the German word for giving a present.
As usual, if you want to check how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestion, leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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