[Etymonline :] "unstressed syllable at the beginning of a verse," 1833, Latinized
from Greek anakrousis "a pushing back," of a ship, "backing water,"
from anakrouein "to push back, stop short, check," from ana "back" (see ana-) + krouein "to strike,"
from PIE *kreue- (2) "to push, strike"

In what sense can a pickup note be judged as pushing back or up (the definition of 'anacrusis' in Ancient Greek)? (Nescient of poetry) I do not understand Wikipedia's explanation) of the semantic shift from poetry:


In poetry, a set of extrametrical syllables at the beginning of a verse is said to stand in anacrusis (Ancient Greek: ἀνάκρουσις "pushing up"). The technique is seen Old English poetry,[1] and in lines of iambic pentameter, the technique applies a variation on the typical pentameter line causing it to appear at first glance as trochaic.


[...] The musical term is inferred from the terminology of poetry, where it refers to one or more first but unstressed syllables of a lyrical verse. [...]

1 Answer 1


Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see any semantic shift at all between an anacrusis in poetry and in music: it's one and the same thing, pretty much. Poetic speech has rhythm, perhaps not always as strict as music commonly is, but there's no place you can really draw a line between poetry and song. And the anacrusis, or pickup, or Auftakt as we say here in Austria, is, as the wiki article says, an unaccented tone or syllable or beat or more that occur before the first accented beat of the rhythm.

  • & even the simplest has an anacrusis - any Limerick... "There was a young woman from Leeds, which is a 6/8 or swing, just the same as [without anacrusis] "Nellie the elephant packed her trunk..."
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 13, 2017 at 14:00
  • Maybe it's the "pushing back" as these days we'd be inclined to say that was 'bringing forwards'. I think of pushing back as leaving your timing a tad late for emphasis
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 13, 2017 at 14:01

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