Sommelier and refulgent


Eva looked about her at the other clients: the businessmen, the lawyers, the politicians, she supposed – eating, smoking, drinking, talking – and at the elderly waiters bustling importantly to and fro with the orders and she realised she was the only woman in the room. It was a Wednesday: perhaps Belgian women didn’t go out to eat until the weekend, she suggested to Morris – who was summoning the sommelier.
“Who knows? But your refulgent femininity more than compensates for the preponderance of males, my dear.”

Restless by William Boyd, paperback edition, p. 74.

Two words interested me in this passage: "sommelier", because I’ve always wondered why it doesn’t appear to bear any etymological relation to wine, and "refulgent", because I’d never come across it before.
A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings.
From Old French, officer in charge of provisions, pack-animal driver, alteration of sommerier, beast of burden driver, from sommier, beast of burden.
Interesting, isn’t it?
Shining brightly; radiant.
Origin: 1500–10; < L refulgere to radiate light.

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:29+00:00 March 12th, 2008|Words|7 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jenny March 12, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for these interesting facts !
    I had already met the word “refulgent” and very probably looked it up but couldn’t remember the meaning. As for “sommelier”, I had no idea where it came from !

  2. Circeus March 12, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I wonder if that “sommier” is the same word as for a spring-mattress?

  3. céline March 13, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Hmmm… I’ve had a look and found no definitive answer as to the relationship between a) sommier (beast of burden) and b) sommier (spring-mattress). I’d be tempted to believe that whereas a) comes from Latin saumarius (pack horse), b) comes from Latin somnus (sommeil), but I’m not sure.

  4. language hat March 13, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    It’s the same word according to my Nouveau Dictionnaire Etymologique.
    Also, that Latin verb should be refulgere, not “refulgent.”

  5. céline March 13, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I want the Nouveau Dictionnaire Etymologique! Thanks for that LH.

  6. catherineSauvage March 21, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    moi aussi je veux ce dico. bon voyage et bonne arrivee Celine. je commencais juste a m’habituer a ton site et tous ses visiteurs depuis qu’un de tes copains m’en a parle. francaise et tutor de francais ici dans un cafe de Brighton. catherine

  7. Ruth May 8, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Fascinating! I always wondered the same about the word sommelier. Now I know! The new word is a bonus too – thanks 😉

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