Forgot To Remember

Somewhere I thought I had learned that the obsolete word “eke” was used to fit into metrical lines that needed an extra syllable — hence the expression “to eke out” meant “to draw to necessary length by adding the syllable ‘eke.’ ” I thought I had learned this, but I can’t find support for that usage anywhere online. So, to everyone to whom I’ve asserted this to be the case, I issue a blanket reservation: maybe so, maybe not.

Certainly the use of “eke” tends to fit that characterization, even when editions of Chaucer gloss “eke” as “also.” The value of this syllable frequently entails only its contribution to the scansion; only rarely does an affirmation “additionally” flavor eke’s semantic role in a line. Still, absent an authoritative permission to continue my previous line of thinking, I’ll retract and wait further instruction.

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3 Responses to Forgot To Remember

  1. According to dictionary.com, the meanings of eke are as follows: To supplement with great effort. Used with out: eked out an income by working two jobs; to get with great effort or strain. Used with out: eke a bare existence from farming in an arid area; to make (a supply) last by practicing strict economy. Used with out.

    Does this help?

  2. AKMA says:

    Thanks, Shielded. I should have been more specific: I don’t see evidence for the particular (metrical) usage that I had thought was the origin of subsequent (economical, laborious) usage. There’s evidence all over the place for “eke out” as “derive by hard work”; there’s little evidence for “add empty syllables to a metrical line as padding,” and what little I can find is indirect.

  3. Devon Smith says:

    With a google search, I find this page. Can’t vouch for that particular site, but we all know the Internet never lies. If you can get at the OED, I’d consider that the final word.

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