What is an Oenophile?
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed September 30, 2002. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
To paraphrase the old joke about engineers, "Not long ago, you didn't even know what an 'oenophile' was, and now you might be one."
Perhaps surprisingly, one of our most frequently asked wine questions is, "What's the fancy word for 'wine lover'?" Prompted by a recent topic in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, today seems like a good opportunity to take a look at this somewhat obscure and rather formal term.
"Oenophile," pronounced "ee-no-file," comes from the ancient Greek, as do many similar words for enthusiasts and hobbyists, from "bibliophile" (book lover) to "logophile" (word lover) and hundreds more.
Its derivation is simple: "Oeno" from "oenos," the Greek word for "wine," with the standard "-phile" (one who loves) tacked on. A long list of related "oeno-" words extends from the fairly common "oenology" (the study of wine) to a truly obscure set passed along by a scholarly friend from the Oxford English Dictionary, including such oddities as "oenomania" (an intense craving for wine), "oenomancy" (divination or fortune-telling by means of wine), and even "oenophobist," one who has a dread of or aversion to wine. I am not kidding about this.
Finally, several or our participants observed that the rather archaic-seeming "Oe-" at the beginning of these wine words is gradually shifting to just-plain "E," shortening "Oenophile" to "Enophile." This evolution appears to be more commonplace in the United States (where even the prestigious Department of Viticulture and Enology of the University of California at Davis has shed the leading "O") than in Britain, where most wine lovers stick conservatively with the older form.
Are you an oenophile? An enophile? Personally, I find the term just a bit too pompous and formal, best reserved for those rare occasions when black tie and tux are called for. The plain-English "wine lover" suits me fine, or as the French would have it in literally the same words, "amateur de vin."