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Pronounced /ærɪˈstɒldʒɪ/Help with pronunciation

This word appeared in an obituary in my daily newspaper recently, defined as “the art and science of cooking”. Not having this word in my working vocabulary, I was at first prepared to take the obituarist’s gloss at face value. That significant part of me that may be described as an eternal student persuaded me to look it up. It turns out instead to be the art or science of dining, a rather different matter.

In an unusual example of etymological exactitude, it’s possible to identify the author of this rare word:

According to the lexicons, the Greek for dinner is Ariston, and therefore, for the convenience of the terms, and without entering into any inquiry, critical or antiquarian, I call the art of dining Aristology, and those who study it, Aristologists.

The Original, by Thomas Walker, 12 Aug. 1835. This was a weekly publication which ran only from May to December in that year. In it, Mr Walker — a lawyer, police magistrate and author — collected his thoughts on many subjects, in particular health and gastronomy, which were original and interesting enough to have been anthologised since.

The classical Greek word strictly means breakfast or lunch rather than dinner, though we should allow much latitude in translating the prandial habits of one culture into another, not least because the timing of the meal called dinner in England has varied greatly down the centuries.

Among other precepts, Mr Walker argued that “As contentment ought to be an accompaniment to every meal, punctuality is essential, and the diner and the dinner should be ready at the same time.” He added, “A chief maxim in dining with comfort is to have what you want when you want it.” He admitted that it was all too easy to take the satisfaction of the appetite to excess, but that as “upon the due regulation of the appetite assuredly depends our physical well-being” and also our mental energies, some concern to ensure that appropriate adjuncts to a good meal were available that would “add poetry to a repast”.

The word has never become more than a marginal addition to the language, a source of obscure scholarly humour rather than a term of utility. It’s best known from books by Rex Stout, in which his corpulent protagonist, Nero Wolfe, has a couple of encounters with a group of gourmets, the Ten for Aristology.

An aristologist should not be confused with a deipnosophist, a person skilled in dinner-table conversation, though the latter word once meant something close to the former.

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Page created 15 Aug 2009