When someone is cashiered, he or she is stripped of rank, privilege, and responsibility, often in a very public and humiliating way. Cashiering has historically been associated with military discipline, and while this ritual dismissal is less common than it once was, cashiering still occurs. One of the most famous instances of cashiering occurred in 1895, when Alfred Dreyfus was cashiered and exiled for treason.
Before delving into the specifics of cashiering, it may help to know the difference between the two forms of this word. In the sense of stripping someone of rank, cashiering comes from the Dutch casseren, which is rooted in the French casser, which refers to dismissal or annulment, and the word has been used in English since 1692. In the sense of someone who stands behind a cash register to ring up sales, the word comes from the French caisser, which means “treasurer.” You can use this handy etymological factoid the next time you happen to find yourself in a situation where cashiers or cashiering is under discussion, should you feel so inclined.
For members of the military, cashiering can be devastating. Typically a soldier's insignia are removed and often destroyed during a cashiering ceremony, and his or her dress sword may be symbolically broken to reinforce the humiliation implied in the ceremony. If someone is cashiered, it means that he or she is not entitled to any benefits, and a record will go on the soldier's permanent file to indicate that he or she was cashiered, and why.
In addition to being unpleasant for the soldier subjected to the process, cashiering also serves as an object lesson for those present. Military discipline often relies on making examples of people, showing active service-members the consequences of behavior which violates military protocol. The message sent by a cashiering ceremony is generally quite clear: violate the rules, pay the price.
Cashiering has also historically been used to punish members of the nobility for acts like treason. In some cases, people have been cashiered and then executed, ensuring that the family will be punished by the loss of rank and privileges. Cashiering has historically created a black stain on an entire family, along with allies, and when major plots have been uncovered, a great deal of unseemly jostling has often ensued as people try to avoid being caught up in the social stigma associated with such plots.