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May 30, 2008 05:02 AM

Why are main courses called entrées in the US?

I've always wondered that, what with entrée being the word for starter or appetiser in French.

Can anyone throw any light on this burning issue?

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    1. Almost as big a burning issue as how come north americans and europeans handle knives & forks differently.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Indeed. My American parents adopted the European method of eating during the many years we lived outside the U.S., and so that is what I use as well - makes a lot more sense to me than switching all the time. Lots of theories about how it developed - one thing I've read is that the men on the frontier wanted one hand free at all times to reach for or hold a weapon, and that the women would often being holding a baby. But I have no idea if any of that is true or not.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I've never really known if it developed in America or if it used to be the European style and we changed to holding both items for some later reason.

          I was also interested to see, on our trip before last, which included some time in Canada that the one-handed style is also widely used there. Interesting in that large scale immigration to there in the 19th century & early 20th was almost exclusively British.

          1. re: MMRuth

            There are three types as I understand it.

            American: All action in the right hand, switching knife and fork between.
            British: Action in both hands, knife in left, fork in right.
            European: Action in both hands, knife in right, fork in left.

            1. re: sailormouth

              I've never heard of that British way of eating, ever. I believe it's the same as the European way.

              1. re: MMRuth

                We Brits eat with fork in left hand, knife in right as do other European countries. Occasionally a left-hander might reverse the knife & fork but Mrs H doesnt (nor does our niece)

                1. re: Harters

                  The offending party that told me this erroneous information has been caned. Thank you!

              2. re: sailormouth

                Filipino: tablespoon in the right hand, fork in the left.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Utensils?? That's if you were hanging out w/ an upscale family!! otherwise it was kamayan (hands) all the way :-)

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    This is common in many asian countries I think -- at least in India, Singapore and Malaysia. You use the fork to push the food onto your spoon. It's quite practical IMO.

                  2. re: sailormouth

                    the Brits most certainly do NOT eat with the fork in the right and knife in the left.

                    1. re: sailormouth

                      I remember watching my brother in my host family when I was an exchange student in Switzerland shovel in a quick lunch one day and became convinced that that method best serves a need for speed.

                      Now, why do Europeans find it rude or suspicious to put one hand in your lap if you're eating something that doesn't require 2 pieces of cutlery? When I ask, I'm always told "I don't know what you're doing down there" with a sly smile.

                  3. re: Harters

                    >>Almost as big a burning issue as how come north americans and europeans handle knives & forks differently.<<

                    Here's what I learned at the Culinary Institute:

                    Since caveman times, the knife was used to spear a piece of food and hold it while taking a bite. As well as to cut and carve.

                    When small dining forks came along and were first used by the upper class in Europe, they were rare, fancy. When forks finally came across the big pond to the US, they were so unusual, so rare and so intriguing, that people actually PUT DOWN THEIR KNIFE to use this new elite utensil.

                    But the knife had to still be used for its customary reason -- for cutting. So the fork was switched to the non-dominant hand to steady the food when the knife sliced or sawed. Afterwards, the fork was switched back to the dominant hand for spearing food and delivering it to the mouth.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Tous les hommes des cavernes ont fini vers le haut de la consommation avec des couteaux, des fourchettes et des cuillères? Que diriez-vous des Asiatiques?

                      Did all the cavemen end up eating with knives, forks, and spoons? What about Asians?

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        <<Did all the cavemen end up eating with knives, forks, and spoons? What about Asians?>>

                        My knowledge of utensil history is sadly incomplete.

                        I referred to cavemen's use of knives and the ubiquitous use of knives in all cultures since.

                        And then I wildly leapt forward in time to when dining forks became a feature at the table of European aristocracy. First knives, then dining forks, then how forks hopped the pond from Europe to America. And how Americans switched hands.

                        What I left out is the advent of the fork in general, as well as the dining fork in particular, and also the advent of any other utensil used as a delivery system of food to the mouth by any culture, including those used by Asians.

                        It's here that I'm guilty not so much of ethnocentrism as I am of huge all-centric ignorance. And of answering the question.

                    2. re: Harters

                      I'm Canadian, and almost everyone I know eats with the fork in the left hand, knife in the right. Perhaps it's a regional or socio-economic thing.

                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                        Yes, I was going to say the same thing. I live in Québec, but I'm referring to English-speakers as well as French-speakers. I have seen anglophone and francophone Canadians eating the USian way, but it is nowhere near as universal here as it is south of the border. Switching looks so awkward. I am left-handed, by the way.

                        1. re: hungry_pangolin

                          Metric is used far more in Québec than in English-speaking Canada, though Imperial is still heard.

                      2. interesting point because in England menus mostly say hors d'oevres instead of appetizers and often main courses instead of entrees. Also in England we always say fillet pronouncing the end T and in the usa it's pronounced the French way fillay. It's back to tomato tomayto again ..................

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: smartie

                          Reason the English pronounce the ending "t" in fillet is to waste no opportunity to intentionally mispronounce a French word. When Americans do so, it is more out of ignorance.

                          I too have always wondered about the entree thing. Thanks.

                          1. re: smartie

                            I think in America hors d'oeuvres have a different connotation than the first course -- I think of it as cocktail tidbits -- things like canapes or party meatballs -- something to serve with drinks.

                            1. re: smartie

                              Seems to me I've more often seen the word "starters" used in the UK where we Americans would say appetizers.

                              1. re: BobB

                                Hm, I've never thought about the diff between hors d'oeuvres and appetizers before, but suppose y'all are right--apps are the first course and hors d'oeuvres more sort've stand-alone.

                            2. Margaret Visser gives a detailed explanation in her excellent *The Rituals of Dinner*.

                              French-style formal dinners in the 18th and 19th centuries had a set sequence. They would typically begin with one or more soups. The next dish would be the *relevés* ("removes" in English), which might be roast mutton, stewed turkey or two large fishes. Only then came the *entrées*, "the 'entries' to the meal proper, which might include cheek of veal, cutlets, tongue, vol-au-vent, sole, chicken, sweetbreads, and eels." There followed two large *entremets* (a cake and a fish, for example). "Around the large creations clustered little dishes, the *hors d'oeuvres*, placed literally 'outside' the main 'works': *hors d'oeuvres* stood apart spatially, not temporally as they do today." Next was the second course, the really big items including, possibly, one or more *pièces de résistance*, accompanied by salads, vegetables and sweet *entremets*. The last course was dessert (sweets, pastries, cheese, fruit and possibly meat pâtés).

                              So, when entrée (the course in a meal) entered the English language, it was actually the second or third dish served and that's the meaning that stuck. The French, on the other hand, perhaps encouraged by the fact that *entrée* is a native word with the meaning of entrance, viewed it as the first course, especially after *relevés* fell out of fashion. But even today, when you start a multi-course French meal with a soup, it's the second dish, the dish that comes after the soup, that's the *entrée*.

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: carswell

                                No hors d'oeuvres and pates, terrines, or timbales before the potages and soups???? I'm temporally and historically and gaulically wrong? Sacre bleu! Mon deu!

                                1. re: carswell

                                  true, except the change didn't happen solely as a result of translation from french to english. entree means the first course both in the UK and Australia (although in the UK the term "starter" is more commonly used).

                                  none of the explanations i've heard explain the fact that the usage of entree as the main course is specific to the US and Canada.

                                  1. re: cornflower55

                                    "entree means the first course both in the UK and Australia (although in the UK the term "starter" is more commonly used). "

                                    I have never seen "entree" used to describe the first course in the UK. We would always call it either the "first course" or "starter".

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I'm an Aussie and yes we say entree for the first course ("starter" you would call it) and "main" for the main!

                                      And also, fillet pronouncing the "t". I have only ever heard it pronounced "fill-ay" on Iron Chef with the American dubbing, so I guessed it was an American thing...

                                    2. re: cornflower55

                                      As far as I know, entrée is rarely used in British English and when it is it refers to a dish served between the fish and meat courses (cf. Sir H. Thompson's 1880 *Food & Feeding* "A family dinner may consist ... of soup, fish, entrée, roast and sweet" as cited in the OED). So, not the first course.

                                      You're apparently right about Australian English.

                                      My guess is that the different meanings have something to do with when the word entered common usage in the various countries. Webster's isn't clear on when it entered North American English but I'd bet it was well before it entered Australian English, i.e. that the Americans went with the old meaning, the Aussies with the new.

                                    3. re: carswell

                                      Carswell, you are linguistically gifted in both French and English...

                                      answer me this.

                                      In culinary school, it was beaten into us that the proper spelling was
                                      hors d'oeuvre. It's already plural so no need for a "s" at the end of
                                      oeuvre. Translation: things outside the work -- the work, the oeuvre, being the meal. Not the "works."

                                      What's your take on this? Or any other Chowhound's.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        Hi, Maria,

                                        Not so much linguistically gifted as just fortunate enough to live in a bilingual city.

                                        *Hors-d'oeuvre* is the French singular and plural. The English plural (as per Merriam-Webster's, for example) is either hors d'oeuvres or hors d'oeuvre (MW lists the former first). So, you're right in catching Visser's typo in the quote: since *hors d'oeuvres* was italicized (what I tried to indicate with the asterisks), it was in French and should therefore have been *hors-d'oeuvre*. She also left out the hyphen, which, according to Le Petit Robert, is de rigueur.

                                        I imagine Visser spoke of "works" because in a typical formal dinner, which she was describing, there would often be several large dishes -- i.e. works -- served as part of each course.

                                        1. re: carswell

                                          Thanks, Carswell.

                                          I had always assumed that the temporal definition of hors-d'oeurve was the correct one: the small bites that came *before* the meal, the oeuvre, began. The spatial definition eluded me in my reading of Visser long ago.

                                          And just one oeuvre. Like a symphony with several movements is still one oeuvre.

                                          (And I corrected my own misspelling above!)

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            I think she's using it in the French sense, where it can mean either a body of work or the individual works that comprise the body of work (e.g. an "oeuvre d'art"). For example, Le Petit Robert defines *Œuvre littéraire* as *Les œuvres complètes d'un auteur.*

                                            1. re: carswell

                                              actually "outside the work" originally referred to the kitchen brigade system-- the chef and various station cooks took care of meats, fish, mains, vegetables, sauces, baking, pastry etc. these guys dealt with the main meal and it's components--

                                              the small bites, appetizers, starters, hors-d'oeurve-- whatever you want to call 'em, were actually originally the job of the servers/butlers/house staff, and so, while "hors-d'oeurve" were part of the meal, the chefs and cooks had very little to do with them, and they referred to these small noshes as "outside of the work"-- "the work" being their own kitchen tasks.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                Thanks. Have an information source so I can read more and compare it to Visser's?

                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  Interesting proposed etymology but the first time I've heard of it. A hardly exhaustive scan of various French and English dictionaries, food reference books and websites turns up nothing in the way of support for it. Can you cite a reference or two? Visser provides an extensive bibliography.

                                                  While Le Petit Robert doesn't come out and state the origin, it does point in a direction. The first listed use (1596) of *hors-d'oeuvre* is as an architectural term meaning a room projecting or detached from the main building, also used literarily to mean an accessory or superfluous thing. *Hors-d'oeuvre* in the culinary sense wasn't used until the following century.

                                                  Quoting William and Mary Morris' Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (via The Straight Dope): "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." The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology would appear to support this view.

                                                  1. re: carswell

                                                    oh crud you guys-- i can't find anything online either, and i believe i read that particular nugget in a textbook. i'm going to have to find the reference for you at home tonight. i'll look for the book and give you a cite as soon as i can. tx

                                            2. re: carswell

                                              My "Oxford English Reference Dictionary" (the English print dictionary I use most) spells hors-d'oeuvre just as in French, and doesn't list a plural.

                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                I earn my keep as a word nerd and I've got to say that's the first time I've heard the OERD cited as a spelling authority. Let's take a look at a couple of more frequently cited references for contemporary British English, shall we?
                                                - Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th edition, 2007): hors d'oeuvre / hors d'oeuvres
                                                - Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th edition, 2004): hors d'oeuvre / same or hors d'oeuvres (for what it's worth, the Chambers Concise 20th Century Dictionary agrees).

                                                More to the point, maria lorraine is American. Merriam Webster's (hors d'oeuvre / hors d'oeuvres) is widely considered the most up-to-date U.S. reference for spelling, hyphenation, word division, etc. But even the venerable and voluminous Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1993) favours hors d'oeuvre / hors d'oeuvres (with hors d'oeuvre listed as an alternate plural). What's more, Margaret Visser, I and, from every indication, you are Canadian. The spelling in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd edition, 2004), arguably the modern-day arbiter of Canadian orthography, is hors d'oeuvre / hors d'oeuvres. Same story for the outmoded but still occasionally cited Gage (1996 CD-ROM version included with the Canadian Encyclopedia).

                                                Of course there's no single authority in English and variant spellings abound (see chile, chili, chilli, chillie, etc.). Nevertheless it seems quite clear that, although one may encounter hors-d'oeuvre in English-language texts from time to time, it is not standard modern usage.

                                                1. re: carswell

                                                  And I think the reason is clear enough: in English, hors d'oeuvres reflects the way people say it as a plural; unlike the way people prounounce the plural in French (same as singular), in English we add the 's' sound to the end as with other nouns. If we don't it is because we are making a point of pronouncing it the French way.

                                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                    In truth, I'm not sure how we spell this in the UK, but I think we'd usually pronounce it in the French way, without any "s".

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      Thanks for the point of reference, John. I shouldn't have generalized to all English speakers, vs. Americans and perhaps Anglophone Canadians.

                                        2. When you're finished with that, perhaps you can find out why, when "au jus" is French for "with the juice" (of the roast), American menus often refer to dishes as being served "with au jus sauce". "With with the juice sauce"?

                                          17 Replies
                                          1. re: KevinB

                                            And then go on to discussing why, in America, "a la mode" means with ice cream - when it's just "in the style/fashion" in French.

                                            And why Americans pronounce "herb" as 'erb, as though it was French. Particularly as I don't believe they pronounce "hotel" as 'otel.

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              I am from the US and pronounce the h in herb, though admittedly a bit more slightly than the h in hotel...

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                But Harters, once you open up this can, other questions inevitably follow:

                                                Why do Britons insist upon using the French words for some things (aubergine, courgette, for instance) and yet also pronounce other French words against the grain (valet, for instance)?

                                                As for American pronunciation of 'herbs'-- never found it particularly French (which would involve a different vowel pronunciations) and always makes me think 'grass' first as opposed to say, aromates...

                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                  "Why do Britons insist upon using the French words for some things (aubergine, courgette, for instance) and yet also pronounce other French words against the grain (valet, for instance)? "

                                                  As to the former, I imagine it has everything to do with France only being 20 miles away (a 45 minute ferry trip), so it will have been through there that courgettes were imported rather than zuccini via Italy. Our climate doesnt successfully grow aubergines, so most are imported from Spain or the Netherlands, but there doesnt seem to be a need to suddenly call them the Spanish or Dutch word. Although I think the Dutch word for aubergine is aubergine.

                                                  "Valet" goes back hundreds of years as a word in usage - back to the time when French was still the language of upper class society who would employ them. However, inn terms of the role "at court", we quickly Anglicised the job and called them "grooms". You won't generally hear "valet" much used in the UK as it is in the US. However, as we're British, we insist on pronouncing "varlet" (also derived from French) with the final letter.

                                                  I think the short answer is that since the Romans arrived a couple of thousand years ago, we've been adapting the language as new things and customs arrive. For example, teenage Brits now use many American words and idioms, picked up from TV programmes - they are seen to be fashionable. Original imprting arrangements probably also explains why we use "tomato", derived from the Spanish tomate, rather than the Italian pomodoro

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    Cheers for that, Harters.

                                                    There are other words pronounced against the grain. Not that I can remember. I've thought this might have as much to do with proximity as the choice of produce terminology. (Producing difference from the continent.)

                                                    1. re: Lizard

                                                      We are, indeed, a linguistically challenged small island nation located off the coast of Europe.

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        But, the sound of your speech is sooooo mellifluous.

                                                        I wonder if Italy stands alone with the designations:
                                                        Contorni, etc.....

                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                          You've clearly never been to Manchester and heard the way they mangle the words ciabatta (cha-batt-ar) and panini. ;-o

                                                          1. re: greedygirl

                                                            "ciabatta (cha-batt-ar)"

                                                            You mean I've been pronouncing it wrongly all these years. Deary me.

                                                            Gio - that's very kind. But I'm afraid that our local accent is not one of the most pleasant on the ears. Think the Gallagher brothers from Oasis - or the irritating Brit woman in "Frasier".

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              GG and H... The most wonderfuly incomprehensible British speaker I've ever heard is Ian Wright the Globe Trekker traveller. Absolutely Love his shows. Sometimes the need for sub-titles exists. He was born in Suffolk.


                                                              1. re: Gio

                                                                I too, have an ear for languages.
                                                                I don't think it is by country without considering the education level of countries. Simply, arrogance through ignorance!

                                                                The three "English speaking countries," rated bad to worst:
                                                                Canada - specifically grammar (no one uses I or ME properly
                                                                Using words without knowing true definition. Ie: decimate
                                                                (Reduce by 1/10th)
                                                                England - bastardising foreign words, pronouncing silent letters, and
                                                                Creating non-existant words.
                                                                ie: mischevious, aluminium, orientated.
                                                                Australia - Once again, silent letters ie: thinkinguh, singger.
                                                                Yes, subtitles PLEASE!

                                                                Canada has embraced everything Aussie. Perhaps to shelter themselves from being at the bottom of the barrel.

                                                                Side note:
                                                                I admit to being slightly bias. As a third generation, Chinese Canadian, planning an Australian trip to celebrate graduation with many of my friends whom were nationalized citizens, I was the ONLY one denied.
                                                                Without having a living relative "Down under," i was denied due to the "all white law." 1967

                                                                1. re: JAKKEL

                                                                  Hi JAKKEL... I grown up (learned) A Lot since then.

                                                            1. re: kmh

                                                              Wow, now I'm confused. I thought that antipasti were served before pasta and main dishes. But perhaps I just thought so on account of that prefix (not prix fixe :) )

                                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                                I didn't mean the order was just suggesting there are more items on an italian menu than primi secondi...

                                                  2. re: Harters

                                                    That's always puzzled me too (the Herb thing) - Someone told me it was to avoid confusion with the man's name "Herb" (more common in the US than here in the UK).