“eke out” now “narrowly scrape”? 
Posted: 07 November 2012 08:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Like most of the world I’ve been following the US elections, and several times came across a usage I had noticed a few times before, “eke out” to mean something like “narrowly scrape”, or “obtain with difficulty” as in the Washington Times yesterday, November 7:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) eked out a win despite the Republican nature of her suburban Twin Cities seat.

This always jars with me (south-eastern England), as “eke out” to me still only means “make go further by some stratagem, substitute or economy”, and I’m barely happy with “contrive to make (a livelihood), or to support (existence) by various makeshifts”, which the OED says has been around since at least 1839. The online Merriam-Webster only has “to make up for the deficiencies of : supplement” and “to make (a supply) last by economy” as the definitions for “eke out” and yet Google News today has a mass of uses in US papers of “eke out” to mean “obtain with difficulty”.

The first use of “eked out a win” I’ve found in Google Books is from the Cornell University magazine The Cornellian in 1951, but apart from another use in 1973 it doesn’t begin to make regular appearences in the record until the mid-1990s or so. I still don’t think this is a usage found in mainstream BrE – there are only a couple of British sources using “eke out” at all in the first four pages of Google News hits for “eke out”, though both are the “obtain with difficulty” sense. But it appears to be common in American usage. So - error, or now US mainstream and time to be recognised by the big dictionaries?

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Posted: 08 November 2012 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Merriam-Webster has this under the verb eke:

1 archaic : increase, lengthen

2 : to get with great difficulty —usually used with out <eke out a living>

So they give two differing definitions for eke out. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but it’s clearly an editorial mix-up.

The OED entry hasn’t been updated since originally written, and it’s generally considered that the E volume was very poorly done.

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Posted: 08 November 2012 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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As the archaic above indicates, the “supplement” sense ("He eked out his meager teaching salary by manufacturing methamphetamine") is almost unknown in the US.

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Posted: 08 November 2012 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I didn’t know it was archaic - perhaps that’s because I’m archaic myself. I’ve been eking out a meagre living for several decades, using a variety of means, all of them legal. Practically legal. I suppose nobody’s had to eke out a meagre living in the Goldene Medine recently ;-)

“Eke” as “also” - now that’s archaic, if you like (I myself use it only rarely ;-). The most recent literary work I’ve seen it in, is John Gilpin’s Ride (”.....a train-band captain* eke was he, in famous London town"). I suppose it’s cognate with German auch.

* As a little boy in England, I used to wonder what had become of the bands on trains. I never got to see or hear one perform.

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Posted: 08 November 2012 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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"Eking out a (meager) living” is quite idiomatic in the states, and not archaic.  It’s the “supplement” or “make up a deficiency” sense that’s archaic: “Not having enough potatoes for the stew, she eked it out with pieces of stale bread.”

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Posted: 08 November 2012 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Still be kind,
And eke out our performance with your mind...

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