It was way back in 1969, when I lived in Honduras, that I learned the Spanish verb empinar, which means ‘to lift, to raise, to set upright.’ In particular, I remember someone using it in the phrase empinar el codo, ‘to lift up your elbow,’ which was a colloquial way of saying ‘to drink an alcoholic beverage.’

Not long ago, after close to half a century, I suddenly had an intuition that empinar must be based on pino ‘pine tree,’ given the way pine trees typically rise so tall and straight and impart a sense of upward movement. Sure enough, when I checked the verb’s etymology I found my hunch was correct. I also learned that Spanish uses pino not just as a noun but also as an adjective meaning ‘steep and straight.’ The example given in the DRAE is “La cuesta del monte es muy pina.”

That last word might make you wonder whether there’s any connection to Spanish piña ‘pineapple.’ The source of pino was the synonymous Latin pīnus, whose adjectival form was pīneus. The feminine pīnea did indeed evolve to Spanish piña, the ‘piney’ fruit. The connection is that the patches on the exterior of a pineapple have a spiral growth pattern similar to those of the elements on a pine cone. English also recognized the similarity in pineapple, where apple takes on a generic sense of ‘fruit.’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BeeHappee
    May 30, 2016 @ 15:22:08

    Very interesting about lifting the elbows. I am visiting in Lithuania now. Lithuanians surely would love that phrase, lots of elbow lifting here. 🙂


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 30, 2016 @ 15:32:09

      I think you should suggest it to people there. It’s a small enough country that you might get the expression established in the Lithuanian language. That seems reasonable, given what you say about the elbow lifting that’s already common there.


  2. shoreacres
    May 30, 2016 @ 21:49:53

    This reminds me that the heart of the agave also is known as a piña, because of its resemblance to a pineapple once the leaves are removed.

    Where I grew up, the colloquialism was “to bend an elbow.” I can remember hearing comments like, “Oh, he’s down at the pool hall, bending an elbow.”

    Strangely, empinar sounded familiar. I finally decided I’d come across it when reading about the Clegg family in Port Lavaca — the folks who rode their Spanish horses at the Presidio. I went looking, and discovered that as with horses, so with bikes. The image search certainly made clear the word’s usefulness for today’s kids, as well as for equestrians.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 30, 2016 @ 22:12:01

      Interestingly enough, the site you singled out uses empinar in Portuguese. Then I looked at a bunch of the other sites in that tableau and found they’re all in Portuguese too. Apparently the use of empinar in connection with bicycles and motorcycles occurs in Portuguese more often than in Spanish. I did, however, find plenty of Spanish examples of empinar for horses when I did a separate search.

      I don’t recall whether I knew that the heart of an agave is called a piña, but it makes sense, based on the resemblance.

      I didn’t grow up with the expression “to bend an elbow” but I came across it in researching this post. You might say I led a sheltered childhood.


  3. Maria F.
    Jun 08, 2016 @ 06:44:13

    “Empinar” continues to be used here for ‘inclination’. It’s used in Hispaniola and Cuba also. The ‘pinado’ is a usage from Spain and maybe south America. I know this sounds like a judgement but sometimes the DRAE misses out on Spanish in the “new world” (hehe)


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 08, 2016 @ 06:56:16

      I also have had the impression that the DRAE is better for Spain than for other Spanish-speaking countries, which isn’t surprising for a book compiled in Spain by the country’s Royal Academy.


  4. Walton Roosevelt
    Jan 14, 2017 @ 12:18:20

    I do consider all the ideas you’ve offered on your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too quick for beginners. Could you please prolong them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.


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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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