As I’ve said many times before, there are words in our American English language that come to us directly from another language. John McIntyre, my colleague who writes the blog, You Don’t Say, says that we tend to forget that our language is somewhat of a slut, in that it is a language that co-opts words willingly from many different languages. I might have used the word mongrel.
Sometimes the words are anglicized, meaning that they are transformed to conform to American English spelling and pronunciation. But other times, as in the case of today’s word, hors d’oeuvres, is just plopped over into our language without changing a thing. Hors d’oeuvres, is, obviously, a French word that means “apart from the main work.” That gives us a good indication of the meaning of it in terms of American usage.
While in some countries (as Italy) there is an initial small, tasty, and appetizing course served in a meal , in America we say that it is served prior to the meal. Thus, it is “apart from the main work. ” Frequently the hors d’oeuvres is served in a separate room with drinks prior to entering the dining room.
Appetizers are meant to stimulate our appetite. They are usually savory, employing spices and flavors that excite the tongue and make us anxious to get on with the meal. If, however, you are like me, you could make a whole meal of the appetizers. I love hors ‘doeuvres…sometimes more than the food that is being prepared as the entree. One of my favorite meals is what has come to be known as Tapas. That is a meal in which the entree is comprised of a number of appetizers, and served in such a quantity as to comprise a whole meal. It allows the diner to engage in a number of tastes. When we are invited to a friend’s house for dinner, it is a mistake to plunk the hor d’oeuvres down on the coffee table in front of me. I will devour them and then have no appetite for the rest of the meal.
I have favorites, but none compares to pâté, a mixture of cooked liver and fat minced into a spreadable paste. It is a cardiac H-bomb waiting to detonate, so I would never admit to my cardiologist that I eat it. But I happen to be one of those people that loves liver. Usually once a month I order liver and onions at our favorite family restaurant. It makes people around me gag, but I love it. As a kid we had liver monthly, and didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to love it.
A really fine pâté, (they all are not) spread on a crostini, is about as good as an hors d’oeuvre can get. Oh, there are others that I look forward to, but pâté is my all-time favorite. They don’t have to be fancy to be appetizing, but some of the fancier ones our resident caterer fixes are unbelievably tasty and come very close. And, I have to admit, sometimes a platter of really fine cheeses and meats, called a charcuterie, is a very welcome appetizer. It is interesting to order one in various locations around the country and see what the favorite meats and cheeses look like there.
It’s fun to see how people try to pronounce hors d’oeuvres as if it requires some kind of tongue-twisting faux French. It’s just plain [awr DURV.] No facility with French required.
Photo Credit: Basil and Peppercorns