The meaning of “schicken”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 11, 2023

Hello everyone

and welcome to our German Word of the Day, Summer, Sun, Vocab Fun Edition. And this time with a closer look at the meaning of schicken:

schicken

And that’s not only useful by itself because it’s something most of us do every day. It also some really surprising relatives.
I mean soap opera “lost sibling plot reveal” level of surprising.
So let’s jump right in :).

schicken itself probably isn’t a new word for many of you.
It’s the German word for to send and it works of course for mail and digital communication, as well as  in a more figurative sense for sending people to places.

  • Weil Maria zu faul zum Schreiben ist, schickt sie eine Sprachnachricht.
  • Because Maria is too lazy to type, she sends a voice message.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Kennst du die große, magische Eiche? Da bin ich auf der Bank.”
    “Nee, schick’ mir mal einfach deinen Standort, das ist glaub’ ich am einfachsten.”
  • “Do you know the big magic oak tree? I’m on the bench there.”
    “Nah… just send me your location, that’s the easiest, I think.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich habe dir eine E-Mail geschickt.
  • I sent you an email.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Einhornkönigin schickt mich.
  • The queen of the Unicorns sends me.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And there’s a whole bunch of prefix versions of schicken that are all ab… oh… hold on… I see we actually have a call here. Dustin from Arizona, welcome to the show.
“Hey man, I have a quick question.”
Sure, go ahead.
“So, I was wondering about senden. I’ve seen that a lot in messenger apps and so on. Does it mean the same? And which one should I use?”
Great question, so senden does roughly mean but it sounds a bit technical and stiff in spoken German. You do find it, as you said, in online prompts quite a bit, because they are about the “technical” side of senden.
And there’s a few related words about mail that schicken just doesn’t have.

  • Ihre Nachricht konnte nicht gesendet werden.
  • Your message could not be sent.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Auf dem Brief steht kein Absender.
  • There’s no sender address on the letter.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Mit dem Super-Giga-Diamond-Prime-Abo sparen Sie die Versandkosten.
  • With the super-giga-diamond-prime subscription you save the shipping cost.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Oh and senden is also used in the context of broadcasting. A TV or radio station is called der Sender for example and a show is called die Sendung. But that’s really only for the “classic” types of broadcasting as in radio and TV, NOT for Youtube or Podcasts.
“Oh, so Joe Rogan would not be a Sendung…”
No, that’d sound weird to me.
“And what about Netflix?”
Nah, I wouldn’t call that a Sendung either. The better word for a  Netflix show is: boring.
“That is some truth right there! Thanks a lot for taking my call.”
No problem, it was a good question.

So yeah, schicken is the standard word in everyday life for sending and there’s a whole bunch of prefix versions with it that all basically give the sending a clearer sense of direction. Pretty much like what the phrasal verbs do in English – to send out, to send in, to send away and so on.
Because.. you know… phrasal verbs and prefix verbs are kinda the same thing, just spelled differently ;).
When you see them in context, you should have no problem understanding their meaning:

  • Der Bot verschickt 100 Emails pro Sekunde.
  • The bot sends out 100 Emails per second.
    (the away-ver in action)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich habe das Paket gestern abgeschickt.
  • I mailed the parcel yesterday.
    (focus is on handing it to the shipping provider)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Die Einhornkönigin schickt ihre Spione aus.
  • The unicorn queen sends out here spies.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Warum bist du nicht im Meeting?”
    “Mein Chef hat mich rausgeschickt.”
  • “Why aren’t you at the meeting?”
    “My boss sent me outside.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The only thing that’s a bit tricky about them is their use case.
Because some of them ONLY work for sending mail, others ONLY work for sending people and some work for both. And it doesn’t really align with their English counterparts.
I’ll give you an overview real quick, but please please tell your brain to chill out!
You hear that, brain?
The following is for REFERENCE. You do NOT need to remember all of this. You’ll pick it up over time, and it’s okay to make mistakes. You’re doing great!
So… here are the ones that are for mail only:

  • verschicken
    (send out, send away – think a of a company sending out a bunch of inviations)
  • abschicken
    (to send, to mail – focus is on the moment you hand something to the carrier)
  • zuschicken
    (sounds a bit more “towardy” but it’s essentially the same as
    schicken)
  • einschicken
    (to mail in – think of mailing a broken hard-drive into a repair shop)

Here are those that only work for sending people:

  • wegschicken 
    (to send away… you might see it for mail, too, but it’s not very common)
  • ausschicken 
    (to send out… usually in context of sending out multiple people)
  • reinschicken
    (to send in – sending a person into a room)

And then there’s rausschicken which works for both – sending a person out of a room or sending out a bunch of letters.
Yo… yo brain… are you busy looking for a system?
STOP IT!!
Just let it go… you know what’s really really really exciting?
The broader family of schicken. Trust me, it’s crazy!
Come on, let’s have a look.

The weird family of “schicken”

All the words we’ve seen so far fit pretty much perfectly with the idea of sending. But there are other words out there that can majorly throw you off.
Like das Schicksal for example…

  • Deutschlernen ist kein Hobby sondern ein Schicksal.
  • Learning German is not a hobby but a fate, lot.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Well okay, actually this still kind of makes sense if we think of fate as what the universe “sends us”.
But what about this example:

  • Das ist ein sehr schickes Restaurant.
  • This is a very fancy restaurant.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Yes, schick means fancy. I guess, we could still tie this in with the idea of sending of we think of a fancy restaurant as something you’d “send” people to. But’s already advanced mind yoga and for the next one is even weirder.

  • Thomas ist sehr ungeschickt mit seinen Händen.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Thomas is very “unsent” with his hands? What?!
What ungeschickt really means here is clumsy because geschickt means dexterous, skilled and die Geschicklichkeit is dexterity. Which you do need some tongue dexterity for to pronounce it. Or even better… Geschicklichkeitsspiel.

  • “Geschicklichkeitsspiel” zu sagen ist ein Geschicklichkeitsspiel.
  • Saying “Geschicklichkeitsspiel” is a game of skill.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

     

I mean… I nailed it, if course. First try.
But I’m a native speaker, so yeah… super powers.

Anyway… so yeah, we’d need to be proper mind contortionists to connect this notion of skilled to the idea sending.
So what’s going on here? Are these words even related to schicken ?

Well… they actually are.

The origin of the family is the absolutely embarrassingly ancient Indo-European root *(s)kek-. The core theme of this root was something like “moving quickly” and in the Germanic branch it later became more general about “moving”. That’s where the verb geschehen is from, which is one of the five dozen German options for to happen, to go on.
And while geschehen itself is fairly rare, the noun is an absolute must have: die Geschichte. So Geschichte is basically “what was moving, what went on”.
Schicken itself originally was a “causing” version and had a sense of “making move“. Which already fits the notion of sending pretty well.
But schicken was pretty broad for a while and also covered ideas of making happen and making ready.
We can still see that in the nowadays rare phrase sich anschicken

  • Gerade als das Eichhörnchen sich anschickte, den ersten Schluck Bier zu nehmen, betraten die Einhörner die Taverne.
  • Right when the squirrel “got ready”/was about to take the first sip of beer, the unicorns entered the tavern.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This idea of “readiness, preparedness”, mixed with a bit of quick movement is probably where the sense of dexterity comes from. And also schick in the sense of fancy ties in here, because the original sense of that was also something like talented, dexterous, before the French took it and modified it. And it makes sense. I mean, think about a fancy piece of jewelry or some fancy embroideries… you do need to be geschickt with your hands to craft it.

So there we have it – the weird family of schicken.
But just to make sure though… it is totally fine to think of fancy-schick and dexterous-geschickt and sending-schicken as unrelated words.
Most Germans don’t even realize that they look similar because the meanings just seem so different. So yeah… if these connections help, then great. If not, then also great.
Like a wise man once said:

“Etymology is like a hotel buffet.
Take what you like, leave what you don’t, and feel free to bring your own stuff.”
(Rocky Balboa)

And that’s it for today.
This was our look at the meaning of schicken and its family.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it, have a good time und wir sehen uns nächste Woche :)

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