Et pevent estre diz en francois gloutons et gourmans./ And can be said in French gluttons and gourmands.—Nicolas Oresme, fourteenth century
Les gourmands font leurs fosses avec leurs dents. / Gluttons dig their graves with their own teeth.–Henri Estienne, sixteenth century
Gourmandism is an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste. It is the enemy of overindulgence; any man who eats too much or grows drunk risks being expelled from the army of disciples.”–Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1825)
The meaning of gourmand is now certainly closer to gourmet than it is to glutton, but our evidence shows clearly that gourmand and gourmet are still words with distinct meanings in the bulk of their use, and are likely to remain so.—Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, 1994
by Jonell Galloway
In English, there is confusion about the term gourmand. Technically, it means “one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking,” just like in French, but it is often used as a synonym for gourmet. Being a French speaker, I cringe every time I hear it used to mean “a connoisseur of food and drink.”
Yes, I’m a purist, and perhaps I’ve lived in France too long to find this acceptable, because being a gourmand has a pejorative connotation in French. It means someone who enjoys too much of a good thing and can’t quite control his appetites. It means “glutton”. It’s quite all right to be a gourmand of books or theatre, but not of food, as paradoxical as that may seem.
All major Western religions deem gluttony a sin. It is one of the Seven Cardinal Sins, with moderation being the virtue.
Gourmandizing means overeating or eating immodestly; it means eating like a refined pig or stuffing oneself with good food and drink.
Gourmand is extended to other sensual pursuits as well. You can have gourmandes lips; I’ll let you imagine the meaning of that. One can also be too gourmand about money, i.e. like in a little too much.
Then comes the question of whether gluttony includes pleasure, because gourmandise does, despite its negative connotation, contain an element of pleasure. Gourmands eat too much, but they do so with pleasure.
Gourmandise may be a sin in the eyes of religion, but thanks to Brillat-Savarin, probably France’s greatest gastronomic writer ever, it recovered its sense of finesse in his “meditations,” and he spent a good deal of time looking for evidence that it was a sin. He found none, he said. All the etymologists and theologians had gotten it wrong. He concluded that gourmandise is in reality a passionate, reasoned, regular preference for objects that please the taste buds. It is, he said, the enemy of excess and is only to be encouraged. That’s one writer’s opinion.
Some say the word gourmand probably comes from the Burgundian gorman, but that’s not clear. Gourmet is different, despite the fact that it may well have the same root, groumet, meaning “servant or valet in charge of wines,” from the Middle English grom, meaning boy or valet (as in groom). Somehow along the way gourmand took on the meaning friand, often linked to glouton, meaning “greedy.” A gourmet is a person who cultivates a discriminating palate and knows how to appreciate both good food and wine. In French, its synonyms are gastronome, expert, connoisseur, or master. In English and used as an adjective, gourmet often means “fancy” food. It does not carry with it the connotation of excess or lack of self-control, either in French nor in English.
It’s interesting to look at the origins of words, and they do change meaning over time, as we have seen, and when they are borrowed by other languages. Whether this is technically the case in English with regard to gourmet and gourmand is still questionable however, because one often sees the word gourmand used in lieu of gourmet.