Printable Version
Pronunciation: æb-stayn, êb-stayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: Forgo, refrain, to choose not to do.

Notes: Although this word cannot accept direct objects directly, if we use the preposition from with it, the semantic effect is the same as a transitive verb. The action noun is abstinence or abstinency except in the sense of refraining from voting, which is abstention. The personal noun is the expectable abstainer.

In Play: We may abstain from things that might harm our health: "Jim Beam changed doctors when his told him to abstain from all alcoholic beverages." We often abstain from things for religious reasons: "Phil Anders left the Church when he found out he was expected to abstain from carnal knowledge." Voting is something we may abstain from with no adverse consequences: "Ben Dover abstained from the vote on the gasoline tax bill because his father owned a gas station."

Word History: English borrowed today's Good Word from its favorite source: Old French, where it found abstenir "refrain, abstain". Old French inherited its word from Latin abstinere "withhold, hold back", comprising ab(s) "(away) from" + tenere "to hold". The preposition-prefix ab(s)- came from PIE apo- "(away) from", source also of Sanskrit apa "off, away", English after, of, and off, German auf "up, on", Icelandic af "off, from", Welsh o "from, of", Irish ó "from, off", Lithuanian apie "about, around", and Russian po "along, about" and o(b) "around, about". Tenere was derived from PIE ten-/ton- "to stretch". We find evidence of it in Sanskrit tantram "loom" and tanoti "stretches", Persian tar "string" (as in sitar), Welsh tant "string", Greek tonos "string" and reduplicated tetanos "stiff, rigid", English thin and German dünn "thin".

Dr. Goodword,

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