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I understand that "eke" means "survive". Where does it come from?

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  • "eke out a living" means survive, barely. the 'eke' is the part that makes it a close run thing.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 7, 2014 at 19:08

2 Answers 2

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The NOAD says of the origin:

Old English ēacian, ēcan (in the sense [increase]), of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse auka.

Also, it means more like “use sparingly” or carefully, rather than “survive”.

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"To eke out a living" is very close in meaning to "to earn just enough to live on" (in the sense of "to make just enough to survive"), but the "eke" part is derived ultimately from words meaning to increase or amplify (cf. "auch" in German).

"Eke out X" either means "extend X" (e.g. if X is "his meager pay") or to "amplify to the point of creating (or being sufficient for) X" (e.g. if X is "victory").

See e.g. http://www.finedictionary.com/Eke.html

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