Have you ever thought that the word restaurateur is missing an n? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone! And if you’ve been typing restauranteur and getting flagged for misspelling, it’s not a glitch. Even though the word refers to someone who owns or manages a restaurant, the n from restaurant disappears in the spelling of restaurateur.
But why? Below, we’ll look at the history and etymology of the word and explore the reasons behind its unusual spelling. Whether you’re a food lover, a linguistics aficionado, or just someone with an interest in language quirks, you’ll be interested to hear how this seemingly illogical spelling of the word came to be.
Where did restaurateur come from?
Instead of asking where the n went, we should really be asking where it came from. As it turns out, restaurateur predates restaurant. Restaurateur (pronounced reh-stuh-ruh-TUR) is derived from the Latin verb restaurare, which means to renew or restore. The Latin word evolved into the French word restaurer in the 12th century. This French verb, which kept its meaning, typically referred to someone who repaired things—whether that was a repairperson or a doctor bringing you back to good health.
Eventually, in the mid-1700s, the word gained an additional meaning: to serve food to. While this may seem random considering its original definition, it makes sense if you think about the first food you’re drawn to when you start coming down with any kind of sickness: a big, steaming bowl of soup. In the medieval period, a restaurateur referred to a surgeon’s assistant. The assistant would feed patients soup to help restore their health.
This is how a restaurateur came to mean someone who made and/or served a restorative soup. And guess what that soup was called? A restaurant.
As time went on, and hey, maybe patients grew tired of soup, restaurant came to mean “any food or drink that gives strength.” The word continued to shift and eventually came to mean the place where these restorative meals and beverages are served.
Restaurateur vs. restaurant
Restaurateur and restaurant were introduced to the English language around the same time, but since restaurateur still mainly referred to as “someone who restores,” only one usage really stuck. Eventually, the two words developed into what they are today: a restaurant as a place to eat and a restaurateur as someone who owns or runs the restaurant.
As it turns out, restaurateur was never actually missing an n. Its history and usage show that the spelling is, in fact, correct, even if it seems odd. From its French roots to its current cultural and culinary prominence, restaurateurs and restaurants will no doubt continue to evolve. What might their next spellings and meanings be?