Word of the Day




a shop that sells food such as cooked meat, cheese, and food from other countries

Origin and usage

The word delicatessen was first used in the US in the late 19th century to refer to prepared foods for sale. It was then extended to refer to the shop where such foods could be bought. Delicatessen came into English from the German ‘Delikatessen’, the plural of ‘Delikatesse’ meaning ‘a delicacy, fine food’. German borrowed the word from the French ‘délicatesse’ which was itself borrowed from the Italian ‘delicatezza’. The informal short form deli started to be used in print in the mid 20th century, although it had probably been in use in speech for some time.


When immigrants move to a new country, the food of their homeland provides a link to what they left behind. In the mid 19th century, European immigrants to the US, particularly those from Germany living in New York, started to open shops selling foods from home. Because they were mostly German, these foods were referred to generally as ‘Delicatessen‘ (with the original k changed to a c) and the shops where they could be obtained were ‘Delicatessen stores’ or shops. By the end of the 19th century the word was being used to refer to the shops themselves.


“George McGovern became the butt of ridicule when, during the 1972 presidential campaign, he ordered a glass of milk to accompany his chopped-chicken-liver sandwich at a kosher delicatessen in New York’s garment district.”
( Ted Merwin, Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli)

Related words

classicism, modernism

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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