Eking out another post

In a comment on the last entry, which dealt with aumentar/augment, I wrote: “I do plan to eke out at least one more related post.” I was giving a hint of what was to come, because the English verb eke developed from the native Old English verb ēacan, which had evolved from the same Indo-European root *aug- ‘increase’ as did the words in the last two articles. Here’s how Noah Webster defined the verb in his dictionary of 1828:

1. To increase; to enlarge; as, to eke a store of provisions.

2. To add to; to supply what is wanted; to enlarge by addition; sometimes with out; as, to eke or eke out a piece of cloth; to eke out a performance.

3. To lengthen; to prolong; as, to eke out the time.

The 1913 Webster’s updated that second definition, which is the only one still alive, by explaining that the verb is “now commonly used with out, the notion conveyed being to add to, or piece out by a laborious, inferior, or scanty addition; as, to eke out a scanty supply of one kind with some other.”

The corresponding Old English noun ēaca meant ‘an addition,’ and when joined with the word name, it produced the compound ekename ‘an additional or extra name.’ Over time, English speakers who heard the phrase an ekename began falsely segmenting it into a nekename, the result ultimately being what we now know as a nickname. You can see, therefore, that the nick in nickname has nothing to do with the separate English word nick, even if Nick is a nickname for Nicholas.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dianeandjack
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 09:03:13

    So interesting!


  2. shoreacres
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 17:04:38

    I just learned this year that the arts used to be part of the Olympics, including language arts. There were 150 or 151 medals awarded, but they were eliminated from the total medal count when the decision was made to include only “amateur” athletes. (Um-hmmm….)

    This post is interesting for two reasons. First, if you’d asked me how to spell “eke” I might have gotten it right, but only by guess. I’ve used the word my whole life, and as far as I know never have written it.

    “Nickname” is the other fun bit of knowledge. I wouldn’t have had a clue where that word came from. So much to learn!


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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