assay [ˈæseɪ, æˈseɪ] v. t.
1.) To test the composition of (an ore, alloy, or other metallic compound) by chemical means, so as to determine the amount of a particular metal contained in it; to determine the degree of purity of one of the precious metals.
2.) To test the strength of a substance by means of a test on an organism.
3.) To try to know or learn; to inquire.
4.) To try the mettle of (any one) in fight, to try to conquer; hence to attack, assault, assail.
5.) To challenge to a trial of strength, skill, etc.
6.) To attempt, try to do anything difficult (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French essai, assai.
He knew whats'ever's to be known,
But much more than he knew would own;
What med'cine 'twas that Paracelsus
Could make a man with, as he tells us;
What figur'd slates are best to make
On watry surface duck or drake;
What bowling-stones, in running race
Upon a board, have swiftest pace;
Whether a pulse beat in the black
List of a dappled louse's back;
If systole or diastole move
Quickest when he's in wrath or love
When two of them do run a race,
Whether they gallop, trot, or pace:
How many scores a flea will jump,
Of his own length, from head to rump;
Which Socrates and Chaerephon,
In vain, assay'd so long agon;
Whether his snout a perfect nose is,
And not an elephant's proboscis
How many diff'rent specieses
Of maggots breed in rotten cheese
And which are next of kin to those
Engender'd in a chandler's nose;
Or those not seen, but understood,
That live in vinegar and wood (Hudibras, Samuel Butler, 1684).