EKMEK (BREAD)

Ekmek (Ottoman:  اكمك) whose literal meaning in Turkish is “bread”, is a simple, yet effective word in the daily affairs of Turkish people; not only because Turkey is the country with the largest per capita consumption of bread, but also this word, whose first known use in its earlier forms (ötmek, epmek) dates back to the proper sedentism of otherwise nomadic Turkic people before 10th century, harbors numerous connotations to many aspects of daily life, work being a crucial one of them.

Second but not least, ekmek is the infinitive form of the verb ek-, which means “to plant, to sow”. The old proverb “ne ekersen onu biçersin” – you reap what you sow, echoes with the reason why bread has happened to be understood as the ultimate product of reaping and sowing. Another example of the predominance of ekmek in Turkish hustle and bustle is the month of October – Ekim, which indicates the month when the seeds are planted on the fields.

Given that agricultural endeavor has constituted the main arch of what is understood as work within the Ottoman Empire, where the economy was highly concentrated in agriculture and military even during the Industrial Revolution, it becomes explicit why ekmek has another widely used connotation which is “livelihood”. The playwright Necati Cumali’s quote illustrates how this particular connotation comes to life: “We are the ones who stake their livelihood on theater”.

These primary aspects of the word allows for the classification of what is meant by ekmek as the first and second types of social income in Standing’s terms: ekmek as an output of self-production or as a money wage received from labor. The agricultural tenet of the former appears to have lost ground to the industrial element of the latter due to the proletarianization of the Turkish farmers during the massive industrialization of the country in the second-half of 20th century. Another relevancy of ekmek to the concept of work is its pronunciation, which was apparently intertwining with that of etmek – “to do” in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The contemporary use of ekmek in addition to its before-mentioned meanings includes many phrases that play a crucial role in casual language. For example, ekmek kapısı – “bread door”, indicates place where one earns his leaving or similarly, ekmek kavgası – “fight for bread”, implies the struggle to earn one’s living. Where the embodiment of work within this word becomes perhaps the most obvious is in the compound word ekmek parası – “bread and butter”, which amounts to the money or earning that allows for one’s subsistence.

The words of famous poet Nazım Hikmet discloses the dilemmatic nature of contemporary world: “Work that is not only for ekmek parası but also for hearts must be found for men”. One can furthermore recognize the available gender roles within the Turkish society by considering the compound word er ekmeği – “husband’s bread”, which immediately regards the husband as the breadwinner in a household.

Lastly, it should be noted that these particular uses of the word are mainly attributed to Standing‘s specific classes: the working class, the precariat and the unemployed. On the one hand, one would expect other classes of higher and ‘secure’ income to work not only for “bread and butter”, but also for some cake; on the other hand, one would not incorporate the socially ill misfits into the “fight for bread”.

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