Origin: Old English, Old High German, Old Norse

Do you have the tine to listen to me whine? About nothing and everything all at once?  I acknowledge that I begin this post by shamelessly invoking Green Day, circa my teenage years.

So, do you?  If so, read on.

Back when I was 15 or so, I was pretty sure I knew the score. I knew most things, but above all I knew most words. I would slide my fancy vocabulary nonchalantly into schoolyard conversation, words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘sycophant’, and bathe in the imaginary admiration of onlookers.  

I didn’t listen to Green Day, secretly preferring The Waifs.  I was a nerd, so I compensated by imagining a world in which my nerdy characteristics were awesome. In this world my plastic glasses, my hairdo (a pony tail with the solitary mini-plait dangling over my face, adorned with a bead), and my penchant for wordiness were not symptoms of irretrievable geekdom but rather evidence that I was destined for greatness, unlike my grungy punky teenage counterparts.

Since then I have learned that being a nerd doesn’t mean that you’re destined for greatness. I have also learned that I didn’t know every word at 15. Leaving aside the hundreds of languages I hadn’t even heard of (Khoisan!), I continue to enjoy chance encounters with new English words to this day. Which is a good thing. Usually.  But a couple of months ago a word exploded into my consciousness which undermined everything I thought I knew about language. That word was tine.

By the time you’re inching toward 30, you figure you know most of the words which describe the world around you. Nouns like table. Ocean. Car. So it came as a shock to realise that I had overlooked a crucial one.

It came to light while camping in Victoria. I was lamenting the loss of my plastic camping fork, or more specifically a particular part of it which had broken. I referred to that part as a tooth, or a prongy thing. My friend looked at me quizzically and asked “do you mean the tine?”. I wasn’t sure.  Later, noticing my unease he commented gleefully “it’s like you broke your finger and said ‘ow, I broke the little pointy thing on the end of my arm’”. And you know what? He was right. So today we will explore tine.

To add insult to injury for ignorance, the linguistic origins of tine are the most wide-ranging of all the words I have profiled on wordaweek. Tine originates in Old English (tind), Old High German (zint, zinne) and Old Norse (tindr).  It describes the sharp protrusion on many sharp-tipped objects such as forklifts, antlers, pitchforks, even combs (though I’m sure you’ll all agree we call them teeth). So whether you work in construction, hunting, farming or the beauty industry – hell, if you eat – you can welcome tine into your vocabulary today.

Here’s how:

1. Ow, I burned myself on a tine! (Stirring the pasta in boiling water and bringing one strand to your mouth to test whether it’s ‘al dente’ yet, burning your tongue in the process).

2. Wow, they’re rather unusual tines! (Noticing a fork with ornate or bent tines).

3. Holy cow, these antlers have sharp tines! (Accidentally stabbing yourself while mounting the spoils of your most recent game hunting trip).

For those of you who really want to embrace tine, may I suggest substituting the word time for tine, preferably in scenarios which involve some reference to sharp objects or flavours. For example, ‘what tine is our knitting group meeting tonight’?

Language is a constant journey, always moving and changing.  Whether we are exploring our first or fourth language, the excitement of discovering precise ways to more accurately convey our emotions and impressions of the world doesn’t change.  Language enables us, empowers us, challenges us and humbles us.  Green Day may be the domain of the cool kids, but they say it well.  It’s ‘a lesson learned in tine. It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the tine of your life.’  

In peace and wordliness 🙂


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