When we deeply desire someone or something, we often say we’re “pining for” them.
“If the downfall of Alex Rodriguez leaves you pining for a true sports hero, try skateboarder Danny Renaud,” writer Michael Daly began a 2013 Daily Beast profile. Etsy is full of cards and signs featuring illustrations of pine trees, along with the text “I pine for you.” Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website even offers a recipe for a drink called “Pining for You.”
But why do we use the word “pining” in this context? “Does it have anything to do with pine trees?” a colleague recently asked.
You could certainly draw a connection to trees. After all, pine trees produce sap, and we tend to refer to overly romantic and emotional things like “pining for” someone as “sappy.”
“Pining for” is also often associated with nostalgia and yearning for the past ― perhaps for simpler times, which many associate with the outdoors (and trees).
However, in reality, “to pine” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with pine trees.
“The verb ‘to pine’ has a totally different origin ― different roots ― than the noun (the tree),” Educator and etymologist Larry Paros told HuffPost.
While the tree noun derives from the Old English pin and Latin pinus, the verb stems from different words of yore. According to Paros, the verb “to pine” derives from the Old English pinian, which meant to torment, cause to suffer, afflict, etc.
Pinian in turn comes from German and Old Norse words referring to pain and punishment ― which most believe trace back to the Latin poena, meaning punishment or penalty. In Roman mythology, Poena was the spirit of punishment, known as Poine in Greek.
“This all makes good sense, for ‘to pine for someone or something’ is to yearn so deeply for it as to engender pain and suffering,” Paros said.
Another popular use of the verb “to pine” is “pining away,” which means to wither or waste away due to sadness, longing or loss.
Maybe a healthier alternative to pining away would be to get outside and smell some pine trees.