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Today's Word



Nov 7, 2005
This week's theme
French terms for food

This week's words
hors d’oeuvre

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Guest wordsmith Rudy Chelminski (rudychelminskiATaol.com) writes:

When, earlier this year, I wrote The Perfectionist, the story of Bernard Loiseau, the world-famous French chef who took his own life because of the insane pressures of his trade, I knew that the book would have to contain a lot of French terminology. At the same time, I was fully aware that most people do not read or speak French, and that it is very rude for a writer to bombard his readers with a language they do not understand. There was no way around the dilemma, though, because the French are the great codifiers of high-level western cooking, and throughout the world it is either pure French or French-derived vocabulary that is commonly used in serious professional kitchens that create la grande cuisine. (See? There we go.)

Sensing that many of my readers would need some gentle help, I translated much of the French culinary vocabulary into English, but there were certain words that were either untranslatable or would look downright silly in translation. These I left intact, in their language of origin, which is how they remain in English usage today. Here's a little selection, with a (very approximate) pronunciation guide.

hors d’oeuvre

(ohr DERV)

noun: An extra little dish outside of and smaller than the main course, usually served first.

From French hors (outside of), oeuvre (job or work). Earliest documented use: 1715.

"Four glasses of classy bubbles ... all served on a tray with a separate hors d'oeuvre to go with each glass."
Flight of Whatever Hinch Fancies; Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia); Oct 6, 2005.

"Before the main course, however, would be an introductory hors d'oeuvre in the form of 40 laps aboard a stock Yamaha."
Alan Cathcart; American Beauty; Motorcyclist Magazine; Oct 7, 2005.

See more usage examples of hors d’oeuvre in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. -Susan Sontag, author and critic (1933-2004)

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