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Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

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Just a little bit of philology on a bright and chilly morning
I was reading a bit in The Towneley Play of Noah, which is written in Middle English verse. Noah is praying, and he says,
Bot yit I will cry for mercy and call:
Noe, Thi seruant, am I, Lord ouer all!
Therefor me, and my fry shal with me fall,
Saue me from velany, and bryng to Thi hall
In heuen;
And kepe me from syn
This warld within;
Comly Kyng of mankyn,
I pray The, here my stevyn!
This is followed by the mind-boggling stage direction, God appears above.

OE stefn, ME steven, stevyn, means "voice." Here my stevyn! is "Hear my voice!" The angel Gabriel in a carol on the childhood of Christ comments on what he sees "upon a good set steven," that is, with a loud voice. Steven is a native English word and has no connection except its sound with the name Stephen and its derivatives, which are from Greek stephanos, "crown."

The only use of the native word "steven" in modern English is in the childhood expression, "even-steven," meaning the game is tied, or all accounts are paid off. The various dictionaries I have consulted over the years say that "even-steven" is a bit of rhyming slang, made for its euphony, that is, the pleasing quality of its sound. But I suspect that before it became a childhood phrase it meant, literally, a tie vote: even steven = equal voices on either side.

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