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  • Dulcie Crowther

Hey! It's All Pine!

My hiking partner Alison and I recently tackled Vermont’s 4000-footers for our Second Annual Hiker Girl Vacation. 4000-footers are mountains in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont that are over 4000 feet in elevation and have a prominence of at least 200 feet. This means that if you get to the top of one 4000-footer, you have to hike down at least 200 feet and back up 200 feet to the next 4000-footer to claim climbing two 4000-footers in one hike. There’s a club. It’s a thing. You can get a patch.

You will hit the alpine zone once you are above treeline on your ascent to said 4000 Footer. There will be a sign telling you this and warnings to stay on the trail to protect the alpine vegetation. As you look at the sign ahead announcing the alpine zone, you will be standing in the Krummholz zone, according to In German, krumm means crooked, and holz means wood, so Krummholz translates to crooked wood. These “crooked wood” trees look like tiny pine trees to my untrained eye.

It was at this point in my recent hike that I stood amongst the tiny pines, looked at the sign, looked at the trees, looked at the sign, glanced back and forth a few more times, and then, genius that I am, said to Alison, “Hey, do you think alpine is related to pine tree? Like, maybe some guy hiked a mountain, looked around, and exclaimed, ‘Hey! It’s all pine!’”

Here is my theory: al + pine→alpine. You might think this theory doesn’t hold because there are two l’s in the word <all>, not one. There’s a spelling rule that states if a one-syllable word ends in a single vowel letter (usually representing a short vowel pronunciation) followed by /f/, /l/, or /s/, you should spell that sound as <ff>, <ll>, or <ss>. Thus, we have words like off, sniff, miss, pass, roll, ill, and, of course, all. I recently studied this with a student. Here’s what we determined :

  • Use <all> if the word is hyphenated, e.g., all-encompassing, all-expense, all-in-one

  • Use <all> when compounded and is word final, e.g.

    • cover + all → coverall

    • carry + all → carryall

    • catch + all → catchall

  • Use <al> at the beginning of a word:

    • al + be + it → albeit

    • al + might + y → almighty

    • al + most → almost

    • al + one → alone

    • al + ready → already

    • al + so → also

    • al + though → although

    • al + together → altogether

    • al + way + s → always

The reason we can use <al> for <all> at the beginning of a word is because the rule stating the need for a double <l> is for the word-final position.

We found only one word that did not fit our spelling convention: allspice. Since we avoid dismissing a word as an exception, we theorized that <allspice> is a coined word in modern-day English (1621, according to Merriam-Webster). When you create a new word, you can spell it as you wish. Yaaas! We also theorized it could be a loanword since it came from Jamaica. Loan words also do not have to follow English spelling rules.

So, could alpine be <al + pine> and be related to the pine tree family? All-signs point to no. According to etymonline, <alpine> is from Latin Alpinus and pertains to the Alps. The Latin <-inus> in Alpinus is our present-day English <-ine> adjectival suffix meaning “of, like.” An alpine region is “like the Alps.” Therefore, the word sum for alpine would be <alp + ine→ alpine.

Generally speaking, the Alps are a high, snow-capped region. The etymonline entry notes that it is unclear whether that word comes from Latin altus, meaning “high,” or Latin albus, meaning “white” (think Albus Dumbledore). The word <pine> comes from Latin pinus, meaning “pine, pine-tree, fir-tree.” When two things look alike, they are not necessarily related. And those “pine trees” I saw? Most likely spruce or fir.

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