language corner

A Matter of Taste

On "gourmet," "gourmand," and loving food
December 1, 2010

When a word takes on unwanted connotations, people seeking a replacement often settle on something close, thinking, perhaps, that the words are synonyms. Sometimes, though, the new word comes with unwanted connotations, too.

Take “gourmet.” From a noun referring to a fine judge of wine, over the years it came to mean a connoisseur of good food and drink. Now, it’s used more as an adjective for the food being enjoyed than for the person enjoying it. And once marketers began using “gourmet” to describe everything from fried snacks to cat food, many people cast about for an alternative and landed on “gourmand” to describe the food lover.

The only problem is many people (and dictionaries and usage guides) see the difference between a “gourmet” and a “gourmand” as the difference between someone who appreciates the delicate spices in a coq au vin and someone who crams down ten portions of it. Although “gourmand” has been used for at least three hundred years to mean “gourmet,” its more frequent use means someone who loves good food too much.

So unless you are a glutton for punishment, you might steer clear of “gourmand” and come up with something less, um, filling. “Epicure” might work. Or “connoisseur.” Or even good old American “food lover.”

Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.