Old English stingan "to prick with a small point" (of weapons, insects, plants, etc.), from Proto-Germanic *stenganan (cf. Old Norse stinga, Old High German stungen "to prick," Gothic us-stagg "to prick out," Old High German stanga, German stange "pole, perch," German stengel "stalk, stem"), from PIE *stengh-, nasalized form of root *stegh- "to prick, sting" (cf. Old English stagga "stag," Greek stokhos "pointed stake"). Specialized to insects late 15c. Slang meaning "to cheat, swindle" is from 1812.