from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The nave of a church.
  • noun An ornamental vessel used for the decoration of the table, having a form resembling a ship of the middle ages.
  • noun At the present day, a vessel of any unusual and fantastic shape resembling more or less closely a ship or boat.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The nave of a church.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun An extravagant table ornament and container used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, made in the shape of a ship.


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License



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  • "Nefs were a particularly British foible, elaborate galleons fashioned from precious metals, designed to hold the finest, whitest salt and set, symbolically, before the lord at the head of the table."

    --Kate Colquhoun, Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking (NY: Bloomsbury, 2007), 75

    January 8, 2017

  • "An illuminated manuscript picture made in 1378 depicts a banquet given some decades earlier by King Charles V of France in honor of the Holy Roman emperor Charles IV and his son (and successor) Wenceslaus. ... In front of them are elaborate gilt saltcellars and spice vessels fashioned in the form of ships. These nefs, as they were termed (that is, ships), would adorn the table throughout the meal, not only fulfilling the function of holding condiments but also serving as centerpieces."

    Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2008), 32.

    This would seem to belie Colquhoun's assertion (below) that nefs were "particularly British."

    See also comment on probae.

    November 27, 2017