Cold Spanish Soup & Its Hot Etymologies
A Spanish Soup Endures the Rigors of Sloppy Derivation
Poor, odd-looking word gazpacho suffers highly disputed, multiple-sourced etymologies, claiming that this lively word for a cold Spanish soup descends from every known language on earth and a few buzzing languages spoken only by the giant bumblebees who rule the planet Nergon.
Persons unacquainted with any deep knowledge of Latin have claimed Mozarabic origins, sources in Sanskrit dope-words, an origin in the Greek word γαζοφυλάκιον gazophulakion literally ‘treasure-guarder,’ but in fact meaning a Greek Orthodox church collection box into which pious parishioners tossed old goat-hair coats etc. From that to a Spanish soup? Are you guys out of your goat-humping minds? First, neither etymology nor printed evidence of transitional forms supports any such unlikely metamorphosis. But that is only the silliest of the notions presented, all founded in the basest ignorance of simple Latin.
True, Clear, Cogent Origin of Gazpacho
To me and many scholarly Spanish etymologists, gazpacho is most likely compounded of the late Latin street word caspa ‘bit, piece, wine dregs, tatters, refuse, flakes, little pieces of bread’+ Spanish pejorative ending - acho < Latin suffix –aceus, in other words gazpacho is a soup with all kinds of scraps and bits tossed into it.
This omnium-gatherum concept, this culinary meme, is not foreign to la cocina española. After all, it is Spanish cuisine that gives us the kitchen-scrap-saving tradition of la olla podrida ‘the stinking pot,’ the big kettle on the kitchen stove into which anything remnant but nutritious is tossed to make tomorrow’s stew. Caspa may not be a Roman word, but, early on, it appears in Italian dialects as caspu ‘the residue left when grapes have been stomped and squeezed.’ In Spain, in Asturian Spanish, caspia is apple residue, left after cider-making. The chaff left after cereal grinding in France is gaspaille. So there is the root, possibly a Celtic morpheme, embedded in the daily speech of all southern Europe, wherever its ultimate source. There too is the prime meaning: leftovers, bits and pieces— perfectly apt for our soup word, gazpacho.
Contrary to the know-no-Latin babblings of some internet “philologists,” the suffix -acho is not of Andalusian Mozarabic origin. (!) It is a pejorative/augmentative suffix, from the common classical Latin suffix –acĕus, productive of thousands of Latin and later English and French adjectives. Reflexes of it appear in all the Romance languages. For example, as a pejorative, it is still a richly productive suffix of nouns and adjectives in everyday modern Italian street speech where as -accio or –accia it is an ending of newly made insult words. Posto means ‘place,’ posto al sole ‘a place in the sun, a happy retreat’ — but with the pejorative suffix, the Italian word takes on a negative import so that postaccio is a common Italian word for a bad place, for example: prigione è un postaccio ‘jail is a bad place.’
Or consider that humble proto-pizza, the lovingly ovened flat bread, focaccia. It harks back to ancient Roman kitchens where, as panis focacius, it was put down even in Latin as a lowly quick bread, for its name stems from the Latin word for kitchen fireplace focus, so that panis focacius means ‘that low-class bread stuff that one bakes so quickly in the oven.’ Since the kitchen-stove was the centre of slave activity in a Roman house, it is no wonder that the later astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630 CE) took the hearth/fireplace word and used focus to name the spot where a lens makes a burning point. All our other English meanings of the word focus stem from Kepler’s metaphorical borrowing.
Let’s discuss one more use of –accio. Testaccio is a once shabby but now solidly working-class part of central Rome. Testaccio has a wonderful market now and many inexpensive places to eat tasty Italian food. It makes a pleasant stroll in central Rome where you will meet ordinary Romans who are pleasant and who will cheerfully talk to tourists, especially if you make an effort to speak Italian. Testa is ancient street Latin for ‘pot’ or ‘jar.’ Testaccio is Italian for shards (of broken pots). The Italian pejorative/diminutive ending -accio is a suffix that makes the noun smaller and negative. Testaccio is built on a hill that was an ancient garbage midden for broken pots and junk. Hence testaccio = ‘place of shards and broken pots.’
Testa was also the common Latin word for the human head, much more frequent in everyday Latin speech than caput. Roman soldiers took the slangy term for head with them on their postings throughout the Roman Empire. Its use is very much as if an English speaker were to say “I took a hit on the old jar today.” Consequently testa is the source of the modern French word for head, tête.
And so, having sipped like Spanish sybarites upon the broth spoon of gazpacho, we may propel the feast forward by summoning to our table paella de mariscos and hear the clack of crab-claw against the ceramic of the serving bowl.
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
French Canadian Translation Services
Read My Recent Columns
1. "RED" Roots like rubri- & erythro- in English
2. Alarums & Excursions: Uses of “Alarm”
3. Farm & Farmer as Words
4. Dolphin Words