James A. Landau
JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Apr 2 18:04:44 UTC 2002
Since Barry Popik is working his way through the Hakluyt Society, this might
be a good time to bring up an etymological puzzle:
Hakluyt wrote an account of Francis Drake's 1577-1580 raiding expedition.
One of the ships he captured was known as the "Cacafuego", apparently because
it carried more than the usual amount of cannon for a treasure ship.
I'm not sure of the best translation of "Cacafuego". Reference  says
"shitfire". Other books translate it as "spitfire", although my
Spanish-English dictionary says the Spanish for "to spit" is "escupir"
(cognate to "sputum") or "expectorar". It also gives a Spanish verb cacarear
"to cackle, to boast".
The edition of Hakluyt's book I read (I don't know what edition) does not
contain the word "Spitfire". However, there is a quote in the book about
someone on Drake's ship saying the Cacafuego should be renamed the
"Spit-silver", referring to the vast qunatity of silver on the ship. This
play on words makes no sense unless the Cacafuego was referred to on Drake's
ship as the "Spitfire".
(Note: in the 16th Century every Spanish ship had an official name, which was
something religious e.g. "Santa Maria", plus a nickname such as "Pinta" or
"Nin~a". The official name of the Cacafuego was something like "Nuestra Dama
de la Concepcion".)
OED2 gives the following dates for "spitfire":
adj "hot-tempered" 1600
noun "cannon" 1611
noun "quick-tempered person" 1680
Is it possible that all of these are derived from Drake's crew's English
rendering of "Cacafuego"?
- Jim Landau
Reference : Harry Kelsey _Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate_ New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-300-07182-5, page 158 and
footnotes on pages 465-6.
Kelsey references British Library, Harley MS 280, folios 84-86.
Unfortunately I failed to note what was in these particular folios.
"spitfire" (p. 1138) is given the date 1680. This is a century too late.
It is in fact the English translation of Spanish "Cacafuego", which was the
nickname of a heavily-armed Spanish treasure ship captured by Francis Drake
(not yet Sir Francis) on his 1577-1580 expedition.
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