• restaurant •
Pronunciation: res-tê-rahnt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A substantial eating establishment, usually having a larger menu than a cafe and cuisine of a higher quality than a diner.
Notes: Although today's Good Word is rather ordinary, it does hold a trap for the unwary among its derivations. A person who operates a restaurant is usually called a restaurateur without the N. This remains the preferred spelling even though US dictionaries now accept restauranteur with the N. These were two separate words when borrowed. As the Word History below will show, restaurant comes from the present participle of an old verb restaurer "to restore". Restaurateur comes from the same verb, but with the noun suffix -ateur "someone who restores" seen in other borrowed words like amateur, saboteur, and the like.
In Play: Cafes and diners offer hearty repasts of ordinary fare, but restaurants have the opportunity to create the "hautest" of haute cuisine: "Milquetoast was able to whiff all the luscious aromas divagating from the kitchen of the restaurant with his ever so gently upturned nose." Of course, haute cuisine may be found in places other than restaurants: "I would much rather dine at my Aunty Bella's than at the finest of restaurants."
Word History: The original meaning of French restaurant "a restaurant" was "restoring", the present participle of the verb restaurer "to restore". It was also used as a noun meaning "a (medicinal) restorative" and often applied to soups. Now, in 18th century France, selling cooked meat was the strict prerogative of taverns, called "traiteurs" in French. But these traiteurs refused to sell portions of meat; the customer had to buy an entire joint. In 1765 a clever man by the name of A. Boulanger decided to offer lamb trotters in white sauce as a soup, since soups were not covered by the traiteur laws. To further distance himself from the law, he called his soup "a restorative", a restaurant, hinting that it was medicinal, and hung a sign to that effect outside his door. The traiteurs sued Boulanger, claiming his "restorative" was a ragout, covered under the law. They lost. Soon similar establishments sprang up all over Paris and beyond, and soon after that the signs outside the doors of these eateries were taken to be the name of the eateries themselves. (We thank Lee Blue today for suggesting today's lexical restorative as a Good Word.)