A recent news article referred to a celebrity as a “gourmand.” The story went on to say that the well-known personality, who loved to entertain, had a vast knowledge of French cookery and was a whiz in whipping up a sauce ravigote or a bombe glacée. It did not suggest that the notable in question was a gluttonous pig who consumed enormous quantities of food. I concluded, therefore, that the writer intended to say gourmet rather than gourmand.
While the two words both deal with attitudes toward food, they are by no means synonymous—and derive from entirely different roots. Gourmand is defined as “one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking; one who overeats.” Gourmet is “a connoisseur of food and drink, one who has a discerning palate.”
In modern usage, the two words often overlap, blurring the distinction between them.
Gourmand is from an Irish Celtic word, gioraman, meaning “one who has a good appetite.” Initially, it was thought of as a complimentary term, indicating a robust and hearty constitution. The word passed into Middle French as gourmant and took on the meaning of “glutton.”
Gourmet is from the Dutch grom, meaning “young man”—the same word as the English groom. In fifteenth-century France a groume or groumet was the servant who brought in the wines. The word later modified into gourmet. Strictly speaking, gourmet applies only to one who is expert in wines, that is a sommelier, but it soon became used for one who was knowledgeable about both wine and food.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou’s wines are limited to the bottles on the lowest shelves, of which he has not so much a vast knowledge as an insatiable thirst.
“May I sing?” asked Miss Eydie Gormé,
My response to her was, “You shore may!”
In her throat a small frog
Made her voice velvet fog—
And she sounded just like Mel Tormé.