There’s A Boner-Jam of Sommeliers… And Nobody Can Pronounce The Word

Pet Peeve

Pet Peeve

We all have our pet peeves, don’t we?  Whether it is people talking on cell phones at checkout counters, forms you have to fill out that don’t give you enough room to answer the questions, duck-face selfies and/or people who chew with their mouths open?  And the more anal retentive and passive-aggressive and OCD we are, the more pet peeves we seem to have.  Am I right?  Some of us have so many pet peeves that we need a petting zoo to contain them.

My pet peeve, of course, is people with pet peeves.

Take Hoppin’ John cookbook author, John Martin Taylor.  Now, if I had an angrier, pet peevier type of personality, I could mention how it makes me hoppin’ mad when people use colloquial spellings when naming businesses, like Toys Я Us and Tastee Freez.

Hoppin' John Martin Taylor

Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor

Or, how it sticks in my craw when people who are not serial killers insist on using all three of their names.  But, thanks to the miracle of psychoactive drugs, my anger is safely behind bars in the petting zoo of Benzodiazepines.

Anyway, the other day, John Martin Taylor made known one of his pet peeves.  Namely and verbatimly:

“If I hear one more person say “suh MAH lee ay” I am going to lose it. What I want to know is how the hell did a word spelled sommelier come to have an AH sound in it? “The suhMAHleeay suggested MO-AY to go with our BROOSHETTA.” As Charlie Brown used to say, “AAAAAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!”

I Think That Might Have Been Long John Silver, Not Charlie Brown, But…

arghWe’ll get into the specifics shortly.

First, if you are like me, you just said ‘sommelier’ out loud to see if you pass the Taylor test.  I did, and was briefly and outrageously so smug that I took a selfie and posted it to Duck-Face Book.  Then it occurred to me that if you look at the word ‘sommelier’, a glaring reality appears: The word ends in an ‘R’.  Not a Cyrillic, Communist, backward ‘R’ like the people at Toys Я A Menshevik Plot To Opiate The Masses use, but a good ol’ Amerrrrican ‘R’ such as you find in ‘Ronald Reagan’.

Not ‘Onald Eagan’, John Mahtin Taylah:  Rrrrronald Rrrrreagan.

Long John Collins

Long John Collins

The word ‘sommelier’ is French, you say?  So fucking what?  If you want to speak French, press two.  I say Detroit, not ‘Day-TWAH’‘Day-TWAH’ sounds totally Gay-TWAH.  And who says ‘Pah-REE’?  We say ‘Paris’, as in Hilton.

All the sudden, we are supposed to start dropping perfectly good letters in order to impress John Norman Collins, or whatever the Hoppin’ John dude’s name is?  No way, André.   Somm-uhl-YAHR.  It rhymes with Terr-WAHR.

And not for nothin, spell-check ‘hopping’, John: There’s a ‘G’ at the end of it.

Court of Master Hootch Hawkers

But a larger question has arisen.  Now that we know how to pronounce ‘sommelier’, do we even know what one is?  Do the big boys themselves, The Court of Master Sommeliers, know for sure what a sommelier does for a living?

marthaJohn Martin Taylor offered his own synonym:  A sommelier is a wine steward.

I’ll sign up to that, so long as there’s enough room on the form to do so, and provided nobody confuses ‘wine steward’ with serial killer Martha Jailbait Steward.

certified somBut sommelier is a restaurant position; can we at least agree on that?  Like a Sous (‘Soos’) Chef or a Maître d’hotel (‘MAY-ter DOH-tull)?  A sommelier directs a joint’s wine program, trains the staff, writes the list, curates the cellars, recommends rotgut to rouse a ravenous rabble.

And yet, if you want to go the official route, in order to call yourself a sommelier you have to write a check for $525 to the Court of Master Sommeliers and attend a two-day, ‘very fast-paced, intensive review’ of wine, memorize the ‘CMS Deductive Method of Blind Tasting’ and pass a written exam.

The only thing you don’t have to do is have a restaurant job.

To call yourself a ‘Certified Sommelier’, you have to pass Level II, which involves ponying up another $325 and taking an even tougher exam, including a Written Theory section, a blind tasting and demonstrable proof that you can open a bottle of Freixenet without putting out your cheap date’s blind eye.

Again, what you don’t need is an actual job in the restaurant industry.

Advanced Sommelier in typical attire

Advanced Sommelier in typical attire

Okay, I get it—like Navin R. Johnson discovered about weight-guessing, the Court of Master Sommeliers is a profit deal. And if they can sell a bunch of certificates and introductory course diplomas to the riffraff like so many Papal Indulgences, more power to them.  We’re not Bolsheviks, after all.

It all makes perfect sense, at least until you get to the third ‘level’ of sommelierdom, the ‘Advanced’ course.  Now, all the sudden, if you read the prerequisites, to qualify you need (beside $795) ‘at least three (3) years’ minimum experience, five (5) years suggested, in the front-of-the-house restaurant service industry.’

So there you have it.  After milking the masses and creating a phalanx of people who can call themselves sommeliers without actually being sommeliers, the Court ‘fesses up to what we all knew from the gitty up:

Sommelier is a restaurant position.

So maybe I do have a pet peeve:

Me as a sommelier recommending red wine with trout.

Me as a sommelier recommending red wine with trout.

Like Solomon Northup, I spent 12 years an indentured peckerwood with my little Court of the Master Sommelier certification pin stuck to my little black tuxedo label, schlepping plonk to the patricians.  That was two decades ago, and I promise you, it hasn’t occurred to me to refer to myself as a sommelier since.  Why?  For the simple reason that, despite the qualification, I’m not one.  In fact, it is the very same reason that I don’t refer to myself as a teenager—sophomoric wit notwithstanding; I was one once, but I’m not one now.  If I did, who would I be fooling?  Other than Stevie Wonder, who aced the blind tasting portion of the sommelier exam, by the way.

For those non-restaurant people who anted up, crammed up, practiced up, blind-tasted up and came up with a sommelier certificate, power to the people!

But although I hate to be the bearer of bad news, for you the proper pronunciation of ‘sommelier’ is [uhn-em-PLOID].

Arrrggghhh that, Charlie Brown.

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4 Responses to There’s A Boner-Jam of Sommeliers… And Nobody Can Pronounce The Word

  1. Well as Mark Twain once said, opinions are like ass*****, everyone has one”! Too bad you never learned to speak a foreign language or keep a job. But keep your jealousy to yourself thank you!
    I worked as a sommelier for 10 years and speak fluent French so I never experienced the shortfalls you obviously have to deal with in your life. After my actual work on the floor I kept my certification alive by consulting for restaurants and wineries. I was always employed. So your definition of sommelier is way off base…unless you choose that path.
    Bon chance…that means good luck in French.

  2. and my post on Facebook was never meant to be taken seriously. It’s not as though I put it on my blog. And as for my name, well, there’s this: http://hoppinjohns.net/?p=299

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