A strange word, or rather two strange words. The first is encountered only in the phrase court of cassation, referring to a French supreme court of appeal, and it’s pretty straightforward: it’s from Latin cassa¯re ‘to bring to nought, annul’ (: cassus empty, void), also the source of the verb quash, and such a court quashes decisions of other courts. The other word refers to ‘a piece of instrumental music of the eighteenth century similar to the serenade, and often performed out of doors’ (OED), and it can be traced back only to Italian cassazione. Willy Apel’s Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music says “The name may be derived from It. cassare, to say farewell, or from L. gassatim, streetlike,” but my Italian and Late Latin books know no such words. And yet it has such an open, transparent look: what, me obscure? And such a useless word, too, given the equivalent divertimento. But I like it. There’s something so old-fashioned and Old World about it.


  1. From Devoto-Oli, Dizionario della Lingua Italiana: “Cassazione = Composizione strumentale simile alla serenata e al divertiment, diffusa in Germania nel tardo Settecento. Forse dal tedesco ‘gassen’ ‘vagabondare per la strada.'”

  2. I had an argument with another Russian speaker a few years ago over whether raskassirovat’ (as in raskassirovat’ polk, to disband a regiment) is derived from caisser or its Latin predecessor, or from its (alleged) typographic meaning — rassypat’ kassu, to spill type from a case. I supported the caisser theory, and I think so do etymological authorities.

  3. From The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
    A term used between 1750 and 1775 in southern Germany, Austria and Bohemia as a title of a composition or of a single movement; the soloistic cassation is stylistically related to the Divertimento, the orchestral cassation to the Serenade. Its etymological derivation is uncertain. In Koch?s and Moser?s lexicons and Abert?s biography of Mozart the word is said to derive from cassare (Italian, ?to dismiss?, ?to release?), thus meaning ?farewell music? (Abschiedsmusik). Wyzewa and Saint-Foix, in their biography of Mozart (i, 201), suggest a derivation from casser (French, ?to break?), implying that it signified a work whose movements could be played in any sequence. Riemann, in his lexicon (7/1909), derived the word from cassa (Italian, ?drum?). More probably the word is a slight recasting of a German expression common among musicians of the mid-18th century, ?gassatim gehen? (?to perform in the streets?); as early as 1619 Praetorius (Syntagma musicum, iii, 18), used the terms ?Grassaten? and ?Gassaten? in connection with the serenade. […]

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