The meaning of “zocken”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: December 14, 2022

The Meaning of “zocken”

Hello everyone,

day 21 of the 2020-iest of all Advent Calendars.
And today, we’ll give our vocab one more boost with the nice little word


And at least those of you who got the new Play Station will do a lot of it over the holidays because zocken means to play…  well, in the sense of gaming.

Looks a bit like zucken (to twitch) and that would make sense because you need to “twitch” your fingers a lot while gaming.
But the two are not related and the origin is actually not Indo-European for once. Zocken comes from the Hebrew verb  śᵉḥōq which was (or is??) about playing, having fun. In Yiddish, this was zachkenen and that then made its way into the German mainstream – but only in the context of gambling.
That’s why zocken does NOT work kids playing in the sandbox or for playing an instrument.
But many computer games are based on beating opponents, winning or collecting loot, so it makes sense that people started using zocken for that.

  • “Was machst du in den Ferien?”
    “Play Station zocken.”
  • “What will you do in the holidays?”
    Play Play Station.”
    (yo, Sony… still waiting for my plug-money!)

  • Ich habe die ganze Nacht Animal Crossing gezockt.
  • I was playing Animal Crossing all night.

Meh, okay… actually Animal Crossing is one of the few games where zocken DOESN’T fit that well, because it’s so incredibly… nice… agreeable. I don’t know how to say it. Zocken does sound like some adrenaline and a potential loss.
But anyway, for actual gambling, the common word today is actually spielen and das Glücksspiel.
But the sense of gambling, especially the shady side of it, is still at the core of abzocken because that’s a common colloquial term for fleecing, ripping someone off.

  • Der Politiker zockt mit seiner Spendenkampagne seine Anhänger ab.
  • The politician rips off his followers with his fund raiser.
  • 8 Euro für ein Bier – was für eine Abzocke.
  • 8 Euro for a beer – what a rip off.

And then, there’s also verzocken, which can be about losing something by gambling (“gambling away”) or more figuratively about taking a wrong gamble.

  • Thomas hat sein ganzes Gehalt beim Pokern verzockt.
  • Thomas lost his entire salary at poker.
  • Haben sich die Einhörner mit ihrem Flugzeugträger-Programm verzockt?
  • Have the unicorns taken a wrong gamble with their super carrier program?

All of those are colloquial, but they’re not really slang, so you might see them in newspapers as well.
And they’re definitely worth adding to your active vocabulary, because they belong to these words that native speakers wouldn’t expect from you.
Like…  if you use Abzocke at a date with that sweet German person, about the beer price for instance, your date will be like “Wait, I didn’t know you were bilingual.”
To which you’ll then say “Yes, I can use two tongues.”
And your boring date is right back on track.
So yeah, that’s it for today with our epic dating advice calendar. As usual, let me know in the comments how it went and if you have any questions or modifications.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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