November 5th, 2003
Gourmands and gourmets / reaim and other re- words
by Barbara Wallraff
Joel Blum, of San Francisco, writes, “A recent article in ‘Business Week’ about farmed caviar said ‘gourmands don’t turn up their noses’ at it. As I understand it, ‘gourmands’ are people who eat too much—but there was no mention of them wolfing the caviar down by the bowlful or anything like that. Shouldn’t the writer have said ‘gourmets’?”
I suppose. But “gourmet” has become a sadly devalued word, with “gourmet” entrees in the supermarket freezer case, “gourmet” chocolates on the hotel-room pillow and “gourmet” jelly for sale in the gift shop. Last month the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on “what the company calls ‘the world’s tastiest gourmet dog treats’—hand-cut barrel treats and gourmet candy and lollipops produced at the company’s ‘barkery.’”
David Galvin, of Boston, writes, “After losing a challenge in a game of Scrabble, my sister e-mailed me: ‘Oh, how lame. I can’t believe “reaim” isn’t in the dictionary. It is clearly a word. “Oops, I missed that dang fox. Let me reaim and shoot again.” Fine, whatever, take it off the board!’
“Reaim” is a classic “nonce” word—assembled for the moment out of components so familiar that of course everybody knows what the word means. And “reaim” does occasionally appear in print, my news databases tell me. But dictionaries don’t have room to include every possible coinage that makes sense. That’s why even unabridged ones give entries for all-purpose prefixes like “re-.” This allows them to concentrate on widely used “re-” words and still have space for ones like “reagent” (defined in the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as “a substance that, because of the reactions it causes, is used in analysis and synthesis”) and “realia” (in education contexts this means “objects, as coins, tools, etc., used by a teacher to illustrate everyday living,” and in philosophical ones “things that are real”), whose meaning we might not be able to guess.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.