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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32

VIII.—Ceap, Cheap, Chap, Chaffer, &C

VIII.—Ceap, Cheap, Chap, Chaffer, &C.

The word ceáp in Saxon-English means bar-gain. In an altered form—cheap, chap, chep, chip—it will be found to enter page 30 into or be embedded in many local names, all implying the place where bargaining, buying, and selling are carried on—that is, the market.

Ceápian is to bargain or agree for the purchase of a thing, and also expresses the completed act, to buy. In all the Teutonic languages, we find a similar word with certain letter changes peculiar to each particular language. In German, kaufen is to buy. In Dutch, the word is koopen. In Moeso-Gothic, the root is kaup. I may here mention that c, ch, and k are interchangeable letters; so are p and f, and the vowels are deemed of no etymological importance.

About the end of the twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth century, we find the c before e and i changed in manuscripts to ch—probably to represent an earlier pronunciation. Before o, a, u, and y, however, the c retained the hard sound of k, and was sometimes changed to k in writing. Thus, ceórl became churl, cild became child, and ceapman chapman; cyning became at first kyning, and then king. This may have arisen from the introduction of a third sound of the letter c in words of French origin—that is, the s sound in such words as circle, circumstance. Inconvenience would be found in having three sounds expressed by one letter, and so the soft or Italian sound of c before i and e was expressed in writing by ch.

The verb ceap-ian, to bargain, was in the last century represented by the word cheapen; A man would say, I cheapened some goods in the market, meaning that he asked the price, or that he bargained about them, and, to this day, chaffer is used for a dispute about the price.

Cheap, in the sense of a market, is found in many local names. In London we have the Ward of Cheap, Cheapside, and East-Cheap. Manchester and Liverpool have also their Cheapsides.

The books which used to be hawked about the country by pedlars, and are now bought up as rareties by bibliomaniacs, were and are still called chap-books, and I am inclined to think that the word "chop" in the phrase "chop and change" has the same origin.

The word cheap, having lost its meaning as a bargain and a market in its uncombined state, has come to mean low in price. This is the fortune of many words. Having acquired a secondary meaning, and the original meaning being expressed by other words, the latter is soon lost sight of. What we now call cheap was formerly expressed by "good cheap," the exact equivalent of the French à bon marché. But the word cheap being no longer wanted for a market, the word good was dispensed with, cheap alone being made to answer the purpose.

I now come to proper names, in which the root cheap, chap, page 31 lies embedded. The name of Chapman is a familiar instance. Ceápman, in our old speech, means a bargain-man—a merchant. We have in some old statutes "dealer and chapman," and the Scotch to this day call a pedlar a "chapman Billy." Ceápman in Saxon had, however, a more elevated meaning. The inferior trader was mangere—monger (which see). I infer this from the word ceáp-scip, which means a merchant-ship.

The same root appears in the names of many English towns. Ceáp.stowe = Chepstow, means the place where a market is held; not the mere narrow locality of the market-house, but the whole market-town.

We have also several local names commencing with the word "chipping." This undoubtedly embodies the root ceáp, for the old form was cheaping. Chipping Norton and Chipping Ongar are instances. They mean Market Norton and Market Ongar. In Market Harborough and some others, we have the modern word. Ongar, in Market Ongar, has a Scandinavian (Danish) origin. Angr in Norse or old Icelandic is a village or town, and Chipping Ongar has the same meaning as the old Icelandic kaup-angr—the market town.