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I saw a tweet that mused on the fact that ‘to pine for someone’ and ‘pine tree’ have the same pronunciation in Japanese, as in English. Is there any shared etymology here? The radicals look pretty different.

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    But those two English words don’t share an etymology, do they?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 1:06
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    This is a non-question. The two senses of "pine" are homonyms. It's a pure accident that they are spelled the same.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 1:31
  • I've removed the "radicals" category since the kanji radicals are actually completely irrelevant to the question about the etymologies of the words 松【まつ】 ("pine") and 待【ま】つ ("to wait"). Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 0:13

2 Answers 2

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Plagiarizing this chiebukuro answer, there do exist some theories that both are related etymologically, but it is more likely that 松 derived from 待つ, rather than the two words share some root word.

Copying from the answer:

■『新明解語源辞典』小松寿雄,鈴木英夫. 三省堂. 2011 語源について、門松を飾るように神を「待つ」ことからマツになったという説、葉がまつげに似ているところからという説など種々あるが、不明。

■『日本語源広辞苑 増補版』増井金典.ミネルバ書房.2012 まつ【松】 松の語源は、二説あります。説1は、松は「松(別項参照)」が、語源だとする説です。常緑樹なので、長寿、慶賀を表す木とされてきました。(中略)神の降りていらっしゃるところは、清浄な場所であり、そこに生えている木が、不思議に常緑の針葉樹でしたので、その木を、「神の待つ木」と呼んだのです。(中略)説2は、「保つ、モツの音韻変化」語源説です。松の緑が長くモツと言う説ですが、付会のようで疑問です

Roughly, the idea is that the evergreen nature of pine is connected to divinity and the tree is associated with 神が待つ/神を待つ, hence the word 松.


Also 松/待つ is a very common pun (e.g. this) in Japanese traditional poems.

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  • The mystery still unsolved: can "to pine for someone" be translated as "待つ"?
    – dungarian
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 0:29
  • @dungarian Why can't it be, with enough finesse and adeptness? I find that a non-question. After all, "to miss someone" can be (typically and most commonly) rendered as 「会いたい!」, but I don't think it's an interesting question to ask if it can be translated as 「お嬢」 or 「さん」. The two senses of "pine" are purely accidental. They are homonyms, just like the different meanings of "miss".
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 1:28
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    @dungarian 待つ is a neutral word for to wait for, so that it could be used to translate to pine for (with enough context, as Eddie Kal says). Probably 待ち焦がれる would be closer.
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 23:20
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@sundowner's answer is a good one. To add onto that, the entries over at the 語源【ごげん】由来【ゆらい】辞典【じてん】 ("Etymology Derivation Dictionary", formerly Gogen Allguide) and the 日本辞典 ("Japan Dictionary", particularly their 生物【せいぶつ】語源【ごげん】辞典【じてん】 or "Living Thing Etymology Dictionary" section) list some additional theories, to which I add my commentary. I've ordered the theories roughly from least likely to most, based on my own understanding.

  • Shift from まつげ ("eyelash"), from the way that pine needles might look like eyelashes (EDD).

    • Problematic. I personally think the analogy is a bit of a stretch -- I've never looked at pine needles and thought, "hmm, those look like eyelashes."
      Moreover, the term まつげ is attested since at least 850, when the Old Japanese possessive particle つ was probably still recognized as a particle -- so the compound meaning of 目【ま】つ毛【げ】 or "eye's hair" would have still been fully recognized. This makes it extremely unlikely that 目【ま】つ毛【げ】 would be shortened to 目【ま】つ or literally "eye's", but with a sense of "pine tree".
  • Shift from 真【ま】常【と】の木【き】 (literally "true eternal tree"), from the idea of the pine being an evergreen (JD).

    • Problematic. In the oldest compounds, it is found with the possessive particle つ, not の, as in constructions like 常【とこ】つ国【くに】 or 常【とこ】つ御門【みかど】. In addition, 常 appears as とこ or とき in compounds, not just as と: I can find no record of any 真【ま】常【と】 anywhere. Even assuming the existence of 真【ま】常【と】, there is no clear phonological reason for と to shift to つ.
  • Shift from 祭【まつ】る ("to enshrine; to worship something holy") (EDD).

    • Problematic. The //r// in matsuru is an integral part of this word, and that is unlikely to disappear. Indeed, the noun form of this verb is 祭【まつ】り.
      It would appear more likely for matsuru to derive somehow from matsu -- but the pitch accent patterns suggest they aren't related ([まつ]{HL} vs. [まつる]{LHH}), and at least some etymologists think the meanings are too divergent (see also the EDD entry for matsuru).
  • Shift from 保【たも】つ, since pines "keep" (i.e. live) for a long time (EDD, JD).

    • Problematic. On the one hand, 保【たも】つ is a compound of た (old combining form of 手【て】 "hand") + 持【も】つ ("to hold, to keep"), and the morphophonemic (meaning + sound) sense of "have, hold" in the motsu portion is quite strong. On the other hand, the phonology is all wrong. There's no reason for that initial た to just vanish. Also, I am not aware of any clear instances of //o// changing into //a// in Japanese verb roots in any way that produces a noun. There do appear to be certain verb clusters in Japanese where we see what might be //o// ↔ //a// correspondence, like とむ・たむ (core idea of "stopping" or "accumulating") or なす・のす (core idea of "producing" or "putting"), but these are all verbs.
  • Shift from 叉【また】 ("split, branching, fork") from the way that certain pine species have split or doubled needles (EDD).

    • Problematic. There's no clear reason for the sound shift required to go from また to まつ.
      There's also no underlying root verb まつ with a meaning of "to split", from which また might be a derivation.
  • Perhaps related to the "keep" and "long life" idea, derived from 待【ま】つ from the idea of "waiting for the leaves to fall" (JD). Or perhaps from the idea of "waiting for the future" (EDD, JD).

    • Interesting, but also problematic. Both seem like a bit of a stretch in terms of the meaning.
  • From 「神【かみ】を待【ま】つ」 ("awaiting a kami"), from the idea that pine trees are holy and can be the abode of kami (EDD, JD).

    • This theory seems to have the fewest problems. However, it is unusual for a noun to derive from a verb where both have the same form.

All that said, it might be just as (or even more?) likely that the verb "to wait" and the noun "pine tree" are similar only by accident. Homophones happen. 😄 Consider English see and sea, or bee and be, or (depending on dialect) worship and warship, knight and night, horse and hoarse, where and wear, here and hear, etc. etc. Or, indeed, English pine (noun, derived from Latin pīnus) and pine (verb, derived from a Proto-Germanic root meaning "to be in pain" and ultimately cognate with pain; see also the Wiktionary entry).

Addendum

You mentioned in your question that "[t]he radicals look pretty different."

For completeness' sake, the radicals in the two kanji are indeed different: 彳 as a radical broadly refers to "going" (and was derived as half of the 行 character), while 木 as a radical refers broadly to "trees".

That said, the radicals in the kanji have nothing to do with the etymologies of the Japanese words.

The reading matsu for both words is regarded as 訓【くん】読【よ】み, literally "meaning reading", where the pronunciation (reading) is based on what the kanji means in native Japanese vocabulary. This is in contrast to 音【おん】読【よ】み, literally "sound reading", where the pronunciation (reading) is based on what the kanji sounded like in Middle Chinese, the stage of development of the Chinese language when most kanji were borrowed.

Any time you're looking into the etymology of a kun'yomi word, the kanji are (usually) completely irrelevant.

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