Etymology Usage

De gustibus

Q: I have seen both “gastronomic” and “gastronomical” as adjectives for “gastronomy.” Is one of them right and the other wrong? Are they interchangeable? Do they have different uses?

A: They’re both OK, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), and several other standard dictionaries we checked.

Perhaps some people might consider the longer one a bit stuffier, but we don’t see much, if any, difference between them.

Merriam-Webster’s, for example, defines “gastronomy” as “the art or science of good eating” as well as “culinary customs or style,” and it lists both adjectives without comment.

So the choice here is up to you. It’s a matter of taste, and (in this case at least) there’s no disputing taste.

The noun “gastronomy” showed up in English in the early 1800s, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The first citation in the OED is from the 1814 diary of Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, a British general: “The banquet was according to all the rules of perfect gastronomy.”

English adopted the noun from the French gastronomie, but the word’s roots are in ancient Greek, where gastronomia meant the “laws or science pertaining to the stomach,” according to Panorama of the Classical World, by Nigel Spivey and Michael Squire.

Interestingly, the OED has an earlier citation for the adjective “gastronomical” than for the noun “gastronomy.”

The first cite is from Diedrich Knickerbocker’s satirical History of New York (1809): “The gastronomical merits of terrapins.” (Knickerbocker was a pen name of Washington Irving.)

The adjective “gastronomic” arrived on the scene in 1828 and the adverb “gastronomically” in1875, according to the OED citations.

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