v. (pp.)


(Modern English stain)


The sense development of this word is difficult to trace and two different sources have been suggested: (1) ME stainen has been taken as an aphetic form of OFr desteindre ‘to remove colour’ < des- + teindre ‘to dye’ (pres. stem. destein-; cp. AN desteint ‘discoloured, pale’), next to the fuller by-form distain (OED, followed by GDS, MED). This accounts for some meanings but not others, viz. when both stain itself (OED, esp. sense 4) and distain (esp. sense 1) refer to the (undesirable) addition of colour. Although these senses are not attested at all in Fr, it is possible to imagine a sense development from 'remove colour' > 'discolour' > 'turn something into a different colour, damage by colouring', and OED suggests that in AF the prefix des- in desteindre may have sometimes been taken in the sense 'diversely, differently'. (2) A better analogue to the sense is the ON v. represented by OIcel steina 'to stain, colour, paint' (cp. OE (ge)stǣnan, MLG stēnen, OHG steinōn), derived on the n. steinn 'stone' (cp. OE stān etc.) , which can also denote colour in Scandinavian languages  (OED, followed by GDS and MED, allows for some input from ON, and it is offered as sole etymology in TGD, followed by McGee 351 and Nagano 1966:64). The sense development of the ON word itself is problematic, but the extension of meaning from stone to include colourful decoration  evident in OHG staimbort ?'painted shield' (showing a development from 'stone' > 'mineral colour'; Meissner) and OE ā-stǣnan ‘to adorn (something) with precious stones’ (see DOE) might provide an indication of how (if not when) such a development took place in ON.

PGmc Ancestor

(2) *stain-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(2) steina 'to stain, colour, paint' 
(ONP (2) steina (1) (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far steina, Icel steina, Norw steina, Dan stene, OSw stena

OE Cognate

(2) cp.  ā-stǣnan ‘to adorn (something) with precious stones’ 

Phonological and morphological markers

[ON /ei/ < PGmc */ai/] (may not be applicable)

Summary category



Widespread from the second half of the 14c.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 170


MED steinen (v.) , OED stain (v.) , HTOED , Dance stayned; (1) AND desteint (1), FEW tǐngěre (2)  de Vries steina, Mag. steinn, Orel *stainōjanan, AEW stǣnan