• assay •
æ-say • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To determine the content and quality (of ore) or that of a biochemical substance. 2. To assess the nature of something, to evaluate it.
Notes: This verb may be used as a noun if we only shift the accent to the first syllable: [æ-say]. Someone who plies the trade of supplying assays may be called an assayer, and anything that can be assayed may be said to be assayable.
In Play: The California gold rush of 1848-1855 was a financial gold rush for mineral assayers, who were called on to verify whether a nugget was gold and assay the quality of the gold. However, we may assay things other than gold: "Herby is a salesman nonpareil who can assay a customer's potential in the blink of an eye."
Word History: This word was taken from Anglo-French assai, which came ultimately from Late Latin exagium "a weighing". Latin exagium is a derivation from the verb exigere "to drive out; examine, try, test", based on ex "out (from)" + agere "to move, drive, lead; do". Its past participle, actus, went into the making of Englihs act, action, and actor. The present participle, agen(t)s, is the basis for English agent. Agere comes from the PIE root ag- "to drive, draw out or forth, move". It may also be component of PIE agro- "field". If so, it went into the making of Greek agros "field" and Latin ager "field, property", which underlies German Acker "field, farmland, and the English borrowings acre and agriculture. (I would assay the recommendations of Good Words like today's from George Kovac of Coconut Grove, Florida as superb.)
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