Thursday, October 25, 2007


I've always wanted to be one of those persnickety, world-weary columnists who wears a bow tie and rails against a world going to the dogs (or to the cats). And here's my chance.

I just heard Barbara Smith, owner of B. Smith’s Restaurant on Restaurant Row, interviewed on Joan Hamburg’s WOR radio show. Smith identified herself as a “restauranteur.” For many years, this lowly word has been one of my biggest pet peeves in the realm of food and eating. There is, in my opinion, no such word. It is some kind of Franglish monstrosity that adds the French ending "eur" to the end of the French word "restaurant," presumably to mean "someone who restaurants." This is neither good French nor good English.

People who own or run restaurants should, of all people, know better. On a previous occasion I wrote in to Hamburg's web site correcting her own use of this "word" on the airwaves. I seek only to help, to edify, but I never received a response, not even a form letter from her staff, let alone any thanks. I know what they're thinking -- persnickety!

But a few moments of clear thinking should resolve the issue. A vendor vends and a server serves. But the word restaurant is a kind of gerund to begin with, meaning in practice "a place one goes to be restored." The root word is to restore, and therefore a person who does the restoring would be a "restorer," or a restaurateur -- no "n."

I don't mind recasting French words and phrases like "à la mode" to mean "served with ice cream" instead of literally "as per the fashion," or "entrée" to mean a main course instead of its obvious original meaning as an appetizer or "entrance." And of course “menu” has lost its original context of “menu de repas,” meaning the “details of the meal.” This is all a natural part of sharing and developing language. I would even make allowances for redundant phrases like "head chef" or nonsensical inheritances like "maître d'."

I certainly don't insist on using the feminine formulation "entrepreneuse" to describe a female entrepreneur, even though that would be technically correct in French. “Entrepreneur” has become a legitimate English word that need not be subject to the mechanics of French grammar. We have no more need of an "entrepreneuse" than we do a "murderess" or a "directrix."

“Restaurant” is a fully English word, and I have no problem considering many other words of French origin as true English words. For example, the word "poseur" is a terrifically useful word. The English form "poser" can be substituted, but to me, that means someone who sits and poses for a painter, or something like that. The word "poseur," just by virtue of its French origin, happens to sound a little pretentious and adds to the meaning of the word. And more importantly, it distinguishes itself from the true English form. The more shades of meaning the better! We all win.

But "restauranteur" adds a French ending to a French word incorrectly, in a way that renders the word ridiculous. It's not acceptable. It's not a "variant." It's wrong.

In the meantime, I'm off to a restaurant now, looking persnickety wearing my nœud papillon (butterfly knot), better known as a bow tie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved this post! Very funny moments. Keep writing!