Old English stincan "emit a smell of any kind; exhale; rise (of dust, vapor, etc.)" (class III strong verb; past tense stanc, past participle stuncen), common West Germanic (cognates: Old Saxon stincan, West Frisian stjonke, Old High German stinkan, Dutch stinken), from the root of stench. Old English had swote stincan "to smell sweet," but offensive sense also was in Old English and predominated by mid-13c.; smell now tends the same way. Figurative meaning "be offensive" is from early 13c.; meaning "be inept" is recorded from 1924. To stink to high heaven first recorded 1963.