What does ‘chivvy’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: chivvy….

I’m not a mystery reader, but I heard a fascinating John LeCarré interview on NPR about a year ago. So, when a friend (thanks, Brian!) mentioned that I should read the famous author’s memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, I was ready to spring to action.

In addition to providing some splendid reading, the book also gave me my word of the week, to chivvy. Here’s how LeCarré used it:

It’s just the loneliness that holds him back, he explains: the thought of sitting down at a desk in the jungle and bashing away for days on end, with no editor to chivvy you and no deadline.

I already knew the word meant to tell someone repeatedly to do something, but I was unfamiliar with its etymology. Interestingly, it probably comes from the ballad Chevy Chase, a 15th century English song telling the story of a large hunting party upon a parcel of hunting land (or chase) in the hills along the Anglo-Scottish border. The party turned into a battle between the English and the Scotts.

Originally the noun chevy referred to a hunting cry, a the term later meant ‘a pursuit,’ as shown in the photo at the top of this post. Subsequently,  the verb ‘to chase, or worry’ appeared in the mid-19th century.