NOAD defines mete as:
dispense or allot justice, a punishment, or harsh treatment
When talking about this sense of the word, we normally hear the verb mete used in verbal phrase mete out. However, I don't think we'd usually say, “dispense out justice”, or “allot out a harsh treatment”.
This got me wondering about the omission of the word out, and simply using mete instead, as in:
The stern judge would often mete the harshest punishments.
In my research, I found that such usage is not without precedent, but it seems to be rare.
When looking up the word mete in Macmillan, the site automatically directs the user to the phrasal verb mete out, in both their American and British editions.
When looking up the word in Collins, the definition is preceded by: "usually foll by out".
When looking up the phrase
"will mete a"in Google books, only 5 results are returned, and two of those are using the word mete in a different sense. Changing the search phrase to
"will mete out a"returns more than four pages of hits. A similar disparity is found between
"would mete the"and
"would mete out the".
The example sentences at Reference.com all use the phrase mete out, such as:
It would be far better to conduct investigations and mete out punishments at the national level.
Still, I managed to find this in one of the book searches, from a 2008 romance novel:
A king might lead this action, but a queen would mete the punishment if it failed.
My conclusion is that one can omit the word out, but it seems to be rather rare.
My question is: How awkward does it sound when the word out is omitted? Would a writer be advised to err on the side of convention, and leave it in? Or is it purely a matter of preference?
Even the (gasp!) prospect of ending a sentence with a preposition didn't deter this biographer from using the phrase mete out:
...it was obvious to the father that the son would pay a price as part of the punishment that the king would mete out. (James Srodes)
As a footnote, I'm only asking about the word mete used in the context of administering some kind of punishment. Other definitions of the word (e.g., to measure) are excluded from this question.