Hors d'oeuvre: 'outside the work'
Monday, November 26, 2012 8:40 AM
My sister, the Grammar Goddess, told me that she recently learned what "hors d'oeuvre" means. It means, for all you folks not forced to talk through your nose in high school, "outside the work." "Of art" is implicit here, because, as we all know, the French have a pretty high opinion of their cuisine, and any main course would be, but of course (or "mais bien sur"), a "work of art," and anything served prior to it would be "outside the work."
In French, it is never pluralized with a final "s". We English-speaking people have made it a rule of our grammar to add an "s" at the end because our barbaric language is a linguistic melting-pot, and our ancestors did not realize that by adding a final "s", they were saying, in effect, "outside the works," giving the impression of a dish residing somewhere outside the local sewage treatment facility. Which, come to think of it, to a Frenchman, would not be beyond the realm of possibility with zeez crazeee Americains.
This over-long introduction is my way of saying that, from time to time, if I have nothing in the hopper sufficiently substantive to warrant an entire article (or oeuvre), I may cobble together some short observations which do not have enough meat on them to expand into an entire main course.
If I were a better writer/chef, I could, bien sur, create a six-chapter/-course novella/meal from every one of these tidbits. (Quote from Jim Butcher's Small Favor about a mom: "[She] was like the MacGyver of the kitchen. She could whip up a five-course meal for twelve from an egg, two spaghetti noodles, some household chemicals, and stick of chewing gum." For better or worse, I cannot yet do anything comparable to that on the page.
"Carp. They're all dead," I said. (Yeah, I transposed a couple letters. I'm trying to cuss less in my articles, not talk about fish.) I was talking to a friend and referring to the fact that I had just finished reading a really good biography of someone who is - you guessed it - dead, only to discover, upon reading the back cover, that the author himself was - you guessed it - also dead.
When I was 10 years old, I was utterly captivated by recordings of the great opera singer Enrico Caruso, and was totally creeped out to learn that he'd been dead for 50 years by the time I got a chance to hear him. His voice on those old records was so powerful. How could he be gone?
By the time I saw Mario Lanza portray Caruso in the movie, The Great Caruso, Lanza was - you guessed it - dead. Sometimes, old as I am, I still feel like I was born too late. "Art is long, life short." (Goethe's version.)
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