Sp. cascar and related words
The Spanish verb cascar is also related to the Latin verb quăssāre that was derived from the verb quătĕre that we have been discussing in this chapter. This is the last Spanish descendant of that verb that we will explore here. The main meaning of transitive Sp. cascar is ‘to crack’, referring to something easily cracked, in particular the hard outside of things like nuts and eggs, e.g. cascar un huevo ‘to crack an egg’. As usual, this verb can be rendered intransitive by conjugating it pronominally (as a reflexive verb), e.g. El plato se cascó ‘The plate cracked’. In both cases, it is implied that the pieces that were broken did not fully separate. When speaking of something dishware, cascar can also be equivalent to Eng. chip.[a] This verb is a cognate of Catalan cascar and Portuguese cascar.
In addition, Sp. cascar has a number of mostly colloquial and thus typically dialectal senses, some of which are common only in Spain. These senses are labelled coloquial in the DLE and informal in MM. A colloquial transitive sense means ‘to hit, beat (someone)’, as in Su padre les casca ‘Their father hits them’. With the subject or object la voz ‘voice’, cascar has the meaning ‘to became hoarse’, as in Se le cascó la voz (subject) de tanto gritar ‘He became hoarse from so much screaming’, Si gritas tanto, te cascarás la voz (object) ‘If you scream so much, you will become hoarse’.
Some of the idiomatic uses are used only in Spain. With or without a direct object la, cascar(la) is used in Spain with the meaning ‘to die’, something like the ‘kick the bucket’ in English, as in Mi padre (la) cascó el año pasado ‘My father kicked the bucket last year’. Also in Spain, pronominal cascársela is used colloquially with the meaning ‘masturbate’, equivalent to the expressions ‘to jerk off’ in the US and ‘to wank’ in Britain. In Spain, intransitive cascar can be used colloquially with the meaning ‘to chat, talk a lot’ (cf. charlar), and ‘to harm’ (cf. hacer daño), as in La bebida casca ‘Drinking is bad for you’ (AEIV; cf. Este wiski casca mucho ‘This whiskey is really strong/really hits you’).
The Academies’ Diccionario de americanismos mentions several uses of the word cascar in different American countries that are unknown in other countries (and in particular in Spain). Three main senses are identified, one of which has two subsenses, all of which are colloquial (labeled popular in the DAm). Transitive cascar can mean in Ecuador ‘to chew something hard until breaking it’ and in parts of Bolivia ‘to chew on a bone until all meat is gone’. Another sense of cascar in those same parts of Bolivia is ‘to do something with great desire and determination’. Finally, in Chile, intransitive cascar means ‘to take off in a hurry’.[b]
Sp. cascar is thought to have descended patrimonially (by uninterrupted word-of-mouth transmission) from a Vulgar Latin verb *quassicare ‘to strike repeatedly’, not attested in writing but assumed to have existed because of its reflexes (descendants) in Spanish and other Romance languages. This Vulgar Latin verb would have been derived from the root quass‑ of Latin verb quăssāre by means of the suffix ‑ĭc‑ that formed first-conjugation verbs in Latin and added the sense of frequent or repetitive action to the meaning of a verb. Two other verbs derived with this suffix are fodĭcāre ‘to dig; to pierce, stab’ from the verb fodĕre ‘to dig, bury, etc.’ (fod‑ĭc‑āre) and albĭcāre ‘to whiten, make white’ from the verb albēre ‘to be white’, from the adjective albus/a ‘white’ (alb‑ĭc‑āre). Sp. cascar is first attested in writing in the late 15th century, though cognates in other Romance languages appear earlier, such as Cat. cascar in the 13th century.
As for the changes in the form of this word from V.Lat. quassicare to Sp. cascar, that is the sound changes and thus the spelling changes, they are quite predictable. The loss of the Latin [u] is no surprise since Latin qu [kw] was reduced to [k] in Old Spanish before the vowels [e], [i], and (almost always) before unstressed [a], as in this case. This [k] sound is spelled 〈qu〉 before [e] and [i] in Spanish but 〈c〉 before [a], as in this case, cf. Eng. quality ~ Sp. calidad, Eng. quantity ~ Sp. cantidad. As for the loss of the vowel [i], that is also totally predictable, since it was an intertonic vowel, that is, a low energy vowel in word-internal position next to a stressed syllable (cf. Part I, Chapter 8).
Sp. cascar, which as we saw comes from V.Lat. *quassicare, has a very similar source as Sp. quejar, which comes from V.Lat. *quassiare, which makes these words cognate (related), but not cognates (doublets), since they do not come from the very same lexeme in the source language (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). Although the sources differ in just one letter, the medial ‑c‑, that small difference made a big difference in the evolution of these two patrimonial words. That is because the ‑i‑ of four-syllable *quassicare was a true vowel [i], whereas the ‑i‑ of three-syllable *quassiare was a semivowel [i̯]. As we saw above, in *quassiare, the semivowel caused the change of the preceding consonant [s] (originally [ss], but such double consonants always reduced to one in Old Spanish) to a palatal [ʃ] (and eventually jota [x] or [h] in the 17th century). Finally, the palatal consonant [ʃ] was itself responsible for the change in the root vowel from [a] to [e]. In the case of *quassicare, the antepenultimate vowel was lost in Old Spanish due to the fact that it was an intertonic vowel, as we just saw.
There are a number of common words related to the Spanish verb cascar. First we have the adjective cascado/a, which is derived by conversion from the (identical) past participle of the verb cascar meaning ‘cracked’. This adjective means ‘hoarse’ when referring to a person’s voice, cf. voz cascada ‘hoarse voice’. In addition, this adjective is used colloquially in Spain and perhaps other dialects with the meaning ‘worn out, decrepit’ when referring to people, for instance, e.g. Mi padre está muy cascado ‘My father is quite decrepit’, and ‘broken down’ when referring to things such as machines, as in Mi coche está muy cascado ‘My car is a wreck’.
Several nouns are derived from the verb cascar. The main one is cáscara, which refers to the hard protective outside of many edibles, such as the shell of an egg, the husk of grain, or even the skin of fruit if it is hard (if thin and soft, the skin of fruit is known as piel ‘skin’). This name is presumably due to the fact that this outside part needs to be cracked or broken (cascar) in order to get to the edible part.
According to DCEH, the word cáscara is first attested in the early 14th century and it was formed in Spanish from the verb cascar. The development of cáscara from cascar however does not follow a regular Spanish word-development pattern, so it is not clear how the word developed. However, there is a variant of cáscara that was more like what we would have expected in a noun developed from this verb (by conversion), namely casca, which was very common in earlier times as a variant of cáscara (DCEH). The dictionary tells us that casca is still a possible synonym of cáscara (the first sense in María Moliner’s dictionary and the fourth one in the Academies’ dictionary), though it is quite rare today, and this word is mostly used with other (rare) meanings, such as ‘grape skins after crushing and squeezing’ and ‘bark of certain trees, used to tan hides and dye fishing gear and tackle’ (DLE).[c]
Even less frequent as a synonym of cáscara is the masculine companion of casca, namely casco, which is used in some dialects to refer to an eggshell (DCEH). However, the noun casco is very common in Spanish with different meanings, including its main meaning today, which is ‘helmet’ or ‘hardhat’. Sp. casco is attested from the earliest times (Mio Cid), with different senses, such as ‘broken piece of pot or roof tile’, ‘skull, head’, and ‘piece of armor covering the head’ (DCEH). Sp. casco is the source of Fr. casque and It. casco for a piece of armor, for these languages borrowed this word from Spanish (DCEH). But Sp. casco has several other meanings: ‘hoof of an animal’, ‘hull of a ship’, ‘central part of a town or city’ (e.g. casco antiguo ‘old part of town’, casco urbano ‘town/city center’), and in the plural, ‘headphones’ (Ponte los cascos ‘Put on your headphones’), empty bottle (= envase), ‘broken piece, fragment’, and ‘piece of shrapnel’.
Sp. cascarón is quite clearly an augmentative of Sp. cáscara, formed with the augmentative suffix ‑ón (cascar-ón). Its meaning is primarily ‘eggshell’, as in cascarón de huevo ‘eggshell, shell of an egg’. This word is used in the colloquial expression recién salido/a del cascarón that means something like ‘just hatched’ or, less literally, ‘wet behind the ears’.
According to DCEH, casco originally meant something like ‘broken piece of pot’ and from this sense, the ‘skull’ sense was derived. This meaning shift is not as rare as it might seem, however. So, for instance, Lat. testa, which meant originally ‘a piece of burned clay, a brick, tile’ (L&S) (but also ‘earthen pot, pitcher, jug, urn, etc.’), is the source of the word for ‘head’ in some Romance languages, such as Fr. tête [ˈtɛt] and It. testa. The connection between the meanings ‘skull’ and ‘helmet’, however, is less obvious. DCEH notes that the word for a metal helmet in Latin was cassis (genitive: cassĭdis; regular stem: cassĭd‑), a word of unknown origin but definitely not related to the word that meant ‘piece of burned clay, etc.’. It is thus possible that the word casco came to be used for an armor helmet due to the phonetic similarity between this and the Latin word.
Another noun derived from cascar is cascajo ‘(builders’) rubble, construction debris’ or, colloquially, ‘piece of junk’. In Colombia, however, it can mean ‘piece of gravel’. A colloquial expression with cascajo is estar hecho/a un cascajo ‘(said of a person) to be a wreck’ (AEIV). This word was attested in the 12th century as cascago, cf. Asturian cascayu (DCEH).
By the way, the noun cascada ‘waterfall, cascade’ is unrelated to the Spanish word cascar (and thus its participle cascado/a) since that word is a loanword from Italian cascata ‘fall’, probably borrowed through Fr. cascade which seems to have borrowed it first; cf. Eng. cascade, a 17th century loan of Italian cascata borrowed through French cascade. Italian cascata word comes from the past participle of the Italian verb cascare ‘to fall’, descended from Vulgar Lat. *casicare, a verb derived by means of the suffix ‑ĭc‑ we just saw from Lat. cadĕre ‘to fall’, source of Sp. caer ‘to fall’. More specifically, the verb casicare was developed from the stem cās‑ of the passive participle cāsus ‘fallen’ of the verb cadĕre ‘to fall’, not from the present stem cad‑. Thus, Vulgar Lat. *casicare and *cassicare are not in any way related and neither are words derived from them.
Finally, we should mention that there are at least two quite common compound words formed with the verb cascar. One is cascanueces ‘nutcracker’, derived from the phrase cascar nueces ‘to crack (wal)nuts’. (The Spanish word nuez means ‘walnut’ and there is no single word to translate the English word nut with the meaning ‘a fruit consisting of a hard or tough shell around an edible kernel’, COED.)
The other common compound with cascar is cascarrabias ‘cantankerous, grumpy (person)’, an oddly formed compound. María Moliner defines this term as ‘person who gets angry for little reason’ and gives several interesting synonyms: bejín, berrín, berrinchudo, corajudo, paparrabias, perrengue, rabietas, rabietillas, and tufillas. The compound word cascarrabias was probably derived from an idiomatic expression cascar rabias, but this expression is rather meaningless in modern Spanish. The word rabia means ‘rage, fury, anger’ in Spanish, though its meaning in medicine is ‘rabies’, which makes this word cognate with Eng. rabies [ˈɹeɪ̯biz]. Sp. rabia is a very common word found in expressions such as dar rabia ‘to make furious’ and tenerle rabia a alguien ‘to be furious at somebody, to have it in for somebody’, con rabia ‘angrily, in a rage’, and ¡Qué rabia! ‘How annoying!’. Sp. rabia V.Lat. rabia a reformed first-declension version of an earlier fifth-declension rabiēs ‘rage, madness’, derived from the verb rabĕre ‘to be mad, rave’. (Note that this verb is not the source of Eng. rave, borrowed through Old French raver, variant of resver, in the early 14th century, of uncertain origin.)
Another term that sounds related to the verb cascar but is not is cascabel ‘bell, jingle bell’. This word is a loanword from Occitan or perhaps Catalan cascavel, a diminutive of Vulgar Latin cascabus, a variant of Lat. caccăbus or cācăbus ‘cooking pot’.
[a] María Moliner’s dictionary defines the first and main sense of the verb cascar as follows: ‘cascar (del sup. lat. «quassicāre») 1. tr. y prnl. *Romper[se] una cosa quebradiza; particularmente, la envoltura leñosa de los ↘frutos secos como nueces, avellanas o piñones. ≃ Quebrantar[se]. ⊚ Romper[se] un ↘objeto de esa clase sin que lleguen a separarse los trozos: ‘El vaso se ha cascado al caerse’. ≃ *Agrietar[se], *rajar[se]. ⇒ Frañer, partir, quebrantar. ➢ Descascar, descascarar, descascarillar. ➢ Cascanueces, cascapiñones, cascarrabias. ➢ *Picar. (MM). The Academies’ dictionary is much less specific: ‘1. tr. Quebrantar o hender algo quebradizo. U. t. c. prnl.’ (DLE).
[b] The original entry is: ‘cascar. I. 1. tr. Ec. p.u. Masticar algo duro hasta romperlo con los dientes. pop. 2. Bo:O,C. Roer un hueso hasta dejarlo sin carne. pop. II. 1. intr. Ch. Irse alguien rápidamente de un lugar. pop + cult → espon. III. 1. tr. Bo:O,C. Hacer algo con muchas ganas y ahínco. pop + cult → espon.’ (DAm)
[c] The original says: ‘casca (De cascar). 1. f. Hollejo de la uva después de pisada y exprimida. 2. Corteza de ciertos árboles, que se usa para curtir las pieles y teñir artes y aparejos de pesca. 3. Rosca compuesta de mazapán y cidra o batata, bañada y cubierta con azúcar. 4. cáscara (ǁ corteza o cubierta exterior). 5. Tol. aguapié (ǁ vino muy bajo)’ (DLE).