• chef •
shef • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Trained professional chief cook in a restaurant or café.
Notes: This word is so French it has few English lexical relatives. Chefdom is often put in quotation marks, as is cheffy "fancy, pretentious". (My spellchecker doesn't like either word.) Chef may be used as a verb, as 'to chef at an upscale restaurant'. The F is doubled before suffixes: cheffed, cheffing.
In Play: Today's is a word that is hard to use figuratively: "The best cooking shows on TV are hosted by celebrity chefs". I once watched a TV show whose point was that the top chefs in New York are French and the best in France studied in New York.
Word History: The word chef as it is used in English-speaking countries is short for chef de cuisine "head of the kitchen". It is one of a pair of words that illustrate how English can borrow a French word as two in the course of its development. English borrowed chief from Old French, and chef from Modern French. Both go back to Latin caput "head, chief, boss", also the source of capital, as in 'the capital of Iowa' and 'capital punishment'. Apparently, the PIE word for "head" was kaput-. It came to the Germanic languages as haubudam and ended up in English as head and German as Haupt "main, chief". The diminutive of Latin caput, capitulum, ended up in French as chapitre, which English reorganized into chapter. (Today's Good Word with the fascinating history was recommended by a frequent contributor in the Agora, David Myer)
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