What’s the origin of “hors d’oeuvres”?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

What is the origin and history of the word hors d'oeuvre? I can't seem to find out anything about it!

Dex replies:

Quoting William and Mary Morris’ Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins: The French phrase hors d’oeuvres literally means “outside the works.” Originally it was an architectural term referring to an outbuilding not incorporated into the architect’s main design. The phrase was borrowed by France’s culinary experts to indicate appetizers customarily served apart from the main course of a dinner. Thus hors d’oeuvres are, quite literally, outside the main design of the meal. Vraiment, c’est simple, n’est-ce-pas?

A related word is canapés, which are “savory appetizers made with a bread, cracker or pastry base, so that they can be picked up with the fingers and eaten in one or two bites.” Canapés are a type of hors d’oeuvres, but the common tendency is to figure you’ve got your canapés and then you’ve got your hors d’oeuvres, which are everything else.

Although you didn’t ask, we’re on a roll (so to speak) here. The word canapé originally meant a canopy of mosquito netting over a couch or bed. In time it came to mean the bed or divan itself–and then into English with its present meaning of a bit of bread or cracker with a tasty mixture of meat, cheese, or fish spread on’t.

Correct pronunciations: Say or-DERV for hors d’oeuvre (and for hors d’oeuvres, too) and kan-uh-PAY for canapé or canapés.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

Comment on this Column