Assay

or Essay. To take the assay is to taste wine to prove it is not poisoned. Hence, to try, to taste; a savour, trial, or sample. Holinshed says, “Wolsey made dukes and earls serve him of wine with a say taken” (p. 847).

Edmund, in King Lear (v. 5), says to Edgar, “Thy tongue, some say of breeding breathes;” i.e. thy speech gives indication of good breeding—it savours of it. Hence the expression, I make my first assay (trial).

[He] makes vow before his uncle never more
To give the assay of arms against your majesty.

Shakespeare: Hamlet, ii. 2.

A cup of assay.
A cup for the assay of wine.
To put it in assay.
To put it to the test.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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