The sophisticated gourmand

I have been hearing, every now and then, people in the media referring to lovers of fine dining as gourmands. However, it is quite wrong and quite comical. It is used as if it were the superlative of gourmet, ie one starts as a simple consumer of food, graduates to being a gourmet, a lover of food, and then at the highest level one becomes a gourmand.

Using French loan words for food is common. Whenever a restaurant (French word) or café (French word) wants its food to sound sophisticated they translate it into French. Le foie sounds so much better than liver; frites are more attractive than potato chips (and far more exotic than French fries), le coq au vin rolls of the tongue more easily that chicken in red wine sauce.

So obviously if we are saying something in French about food it must be sophisticated. But not in the case of gourmand. Gourmand is the French word for glutton and that is exactly what it means in English (and German and Dutch as well).

A gourmet is a connoisseur of eating and drinking. In French it came from the Old French word groume originally wine-taster or wine merchant’s servant. Ironically it was probably influenced by gourmand to become gourmet. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable explains:

In England the difference is this: a gourmand regards quantity more than quality, a gourmet quality more than quantity.

So beware …