English English language Etymology Usage Word origin

A medieval mystery

Q: I’m enjoying Mel Starr’s Hugh de Singleton series of medieval mysteries. I take notes when he mentions unfamiliar dishes and I look up the terms later. I’ve finally come across one I can’t track down. It’s cevy, which seems to be a broth or herb or flavoring for cooking fish or rabbit. Can you help?

A: The term cevy is a variant of cive, a Middle English word for a “spicy sauce containing chives or onions,” according to the Middle English Dictionary (5th ed., 1998), edited by Hans Kurath and Sherman M. Kuhn.

The dictionary says cive (pronounced with a long e) is derived from civé, Old French for “chive” or “onion.”

Other Middle English variants for cive include civey and cyvee. (In Middle English, the “v” sound is often written as u.)

In addition, Kurath and Kuhn note, the term is sometimes misspelled as ciney, cene, sine, and sene.

The dictionary has citations, dating from sometime before 1300 to sometime before 1500, for cive and its variants, including Harys in cyuee, mallard in cyuey, Connyngnes [rabbits] in cyuee, Mawlard in gely or in cyuey, and Oysturs in ceuy.

The Oxford English Dictionary, which spells the word civy or civey, cites a more expansive description of the now-obsolete term from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongnes (1611), compiled by Randall Cotgrave:

“A broth or sauce made of the entrails of a hog; also broth or sauce for the forepart of a fried hare, made of wine, vinegar, verjuice, herbs, and spices; oyster broth, or broth made of boiled oysters.”

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