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Arts & Life

Why is there no "n" in restaurateur?

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A person who owns and manages a restaurant is called a restaurateur. Notice anything strange about that word -- especially when compared to "restaurant"?

If you're wondering why there's no "n" after the second "a" in "restaurateur," you're not alone. A listener recently asked us, why "restaurant" has an "n" but "restaurateur" does not.

What happened to that "n?" Even though it seems logical that a restaurant owner would be called a "restauranteur," somehow that "n" got lost along the way.

However, when it comes to "restaurant" and "restaurateur," "restaurateur" is actually the older of the two. Therefore, what we should be asking is where did that "n" come from?

Both of these words go back to the same French verb "restaurer" which means "to restore." A restaurateur could be a person who repaired objects; it could be an assistant to a surgeon, or someone who helped to repair broken bones. Basically, a restorer.

By the mid-1700s in French, a "restaurateur" could also be a person who made a restorative soup called "restaurant." The soup was made with meat juices and thought to be medicinal.  At some point in French, "restaurant" came to mean a place that served this special soup. Eventually, a "restaurant" could be any place to eat.

"Restaurateur" comes into English from French at the end of the 18th century. It referred to a person who owns and manages a restaurant, except that a "restaurateur" could also refer to the restaurant itself. 

"Restaurant" doesn't make its way into English until 1806. From there, it's not hard to see why someone would want to say "restauranteur." However, for now it seems as though people prefer to make a distinction between "restaurateur" and "restaurant."

You can read more about these two words and how they came to be at Michale Quinion's blog World Wide Words.

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