Hors d'oeuvres

Are these hors d’oeuvres or appetizers? Since they’re from Martha Stewart and look all fancy and all, we’ll go with hors d’oeuvres on this one.

Dear Crabby,

Is there a difference between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres?

Some of us were sitting around watching a game and eating some stuff, and someone said an appetizer has to be eaten on a plate at a table. We thought the concept of eating off a plate at a table was a joke at first, but eventually decided to refer the question to you.

Thanks, Crabby. (Loser buys the beer next time.)

Sincerely,

Semantics or Some Antics?

Dear Semantics,

I’ve never considered the question and initially wanted to just say, “They’re interchangeable; everyone knows that.” But then I thought about what “appetizer” brings to my mind’s eye versus what “hors d’oeuvres” brings. The former is, like, a basket of wings or a hummus platter being shared by people at a restaurant while they wait for their entrees. The latter is a guy with a tray full of little stuffed mushrooms or shrimp puffs, walking around at a reception.

So, I guess at least in my head there is a difference. I looked into a bit, hoping for a more concrete answer, and found that a lot of people, especially in the catering and food-service industries, indeed make a distinction between the terms. (There are, literally — but not LITERALLY — more blogs devoted to this subject than there are stars in the sky.)

I thought that was evidence enough, but I kept poking around online for more answers. Then Wikipedia told me, “The term appetizer is a synonym for hors d’oeuvre.” It also told me that appetizers won the 1934 World Series and hors d’oeuvres used to play drums for ZZ Top. (I kid. I actually find Wikipedia skepticism tiring. The site is a huge resource and generally very accurate.)

Still, the point is, I was no closer to a firm answer. But the Merriam-Webster online dictionary provided a hint, defining hors d’ouevre as “any of various savory foods usually served as appetizers.” That “usually” would seem to indicate hors d’ouevres are not, by definition, appetizers even if they mostly are.

Seeing as beer is at stake here, and I have to make a ruling, I’m going to go with your acquaintance who said appetizers have to be at a table. (I won’t go so far as to mandate a plate; consider that basket of wings after all. But in general I think that person was right.) This is in line with the distinctions made by all the amateur food writers whose work I consulted, all of which defined “appetizer” as a first course at a table. Also, it makes sense based on my gut reactions to the words.

That said, would I point out the error if someone incorrectly called an appetizer an hors d’oeuvre or vice versa? No. Obviously not. That’s a level of pedantry I can’t abide. So, while I’m taking your friend’s side in the argument and I think you’re the one who needs to buy the beer, I also think your friend is weird and possibly terrible.

Hope that helps.

Sincerely,

Crabby

• Please send your questions, complaints and irritations to pmuir@yakimaherald.com with the subject “Dear Crabby.”