Furetière’s Definition of Taste

The Robert-Collins Unabridged French-English Dictionary lists eighteen contributing editors for the sixth edition alone. Back in the day, the preparation of a reference book was hardly a collaboration. There were academies and societies who saw a need to codify the knowledge of their age, but many of our reference works still bear titles like Bartlett’s and Gray’s because they were originally compiled by Bartlett and Gray. Noah Webster, to produce his dictionary, spent nearly thirty years in nightly hermitage becoming a sort of arch-autodidact. He learned twenty-six languages and single-handedly standardized American words and spellings, never before recorded, which are still in use. (Apparently, there are no skunks in Britain.)

Antoine Furetière (b. 1619) is the so-called ‘father of the French dictionary.’ Fed up with the progress of his fallow fellows at the Académie française in the preparation of a definitive Dictionnaire, Furetière published his own version in 1684. The academy accused him of appropriating academy material and invoked Louis XIV to put a stop the rebel Furetière. He died before the court reached a verdict, but his dictionary survived and it remains a fascinating document. Perhaps modern reference materials, with their teams of researchers, are superior sources of information. But something great was lost with the prejudice of the individual intellect.

This entry is taken from the 1690 edition of Furetière’s Dictionnaire for the word goust, the old French form of the modern goût, meaning ‘taste.’ (From the Latin, gustare, evident in English words like ‘gustatory.) The translation is my own.


1. The sense given by nature to distinguish between flavors.

2. Taste can also mean the appetite, the desire we have to eat and drink. When a sick man regains his taste, it’s a good sign.

3. Taste also suggests the quality of the thing tasted. Sauces of overwhelming taste are bad for the health. This wine tastes of soil.

4. We also speak of taste when making moral judgments. That man’s manners are suited to the world’s taste. This is a mind of good taste. M. Blondel treated the subject of good taste in his book on architecture.

5. Taste is also spoken of when discussing buildings, statues and paintings. The Greeks had superior taste in buildings. Some have a taste for the paintings of Poussin, others for Rubens. Having good taste consists of forming an idea of the most perfect things and adhering to that idea. Sometimes we confuse taste with method, and we say, ‘What fine method,’ instead of fine taste.

6. Taste is also used to describe a man who cares not for a certain thing. He has no taste for verse, he is untouched by music, or he knows nothing of it. We also say, he has no taste for marriage, for war. Proverbially, we say that one mustn’t dispute taste, as taste varies according to inclination. We say that a dead man has lost his taste for bread. If something is too expensive, we say that the cost wastes our taste for it.

~ by ohkrapp on May 29, 2008.

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