Chichevache is a mythological European monster fabled to feed on "good women".
Chaucer may have borrowed the French word chichifache (thin face) to coin chichevache (thin or meagre cow). In English, 'Chichevache' literally means 'niggardly' or 'greedy cow'.
In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, this human-faced cow is perpetually starved to skin and bone due to the scarcity of obedient and faithful wives. The Bicorn or Bycorne, a counterpart to the Chichevache that fed on obedient and kind husbands, was reputedly fat and plump because of the plentiful supply of such men. In the Mystère de Sainte-Geneviève, it is said that Chicheface was mean because « il ne devait point faire de fréquents ni de copieux repas » : « L'on m'a nommée Chicheface / Aussi seiche qu'une carcasse ».
Here is the paragraph where the word appears in The Canterbury Tales:
- "O noble wives, full of high prudence,
- Let no humility your tongues nail:
- Nor let no clerk have cause or diligence
- To write of you a story of such marvail,
- As of Griselda patient and kind,
- Lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail.