I have often seen the expression maitre d' in English texts.
It obviously comes from the French maître d'hôtel, meaning more or less head waiter.
I can understand that the î in maître would be transformed into i in English texts for lack of the appropriate diacritic, but the transformation of d'hôtel into the strangely dangling d' baffles me.
Also: I have the vague feeling, that the expression maitre d' is rather modern in the sense that I see it on the Internet and not in the books I read (most of which, admittedly, were written several decades ago).
Could some anglophone enlighten a puzzled Frenchman?

  • 5
    Not an answer to your question, but as a speaker of British English, I find this American expression just as strange as your do. – Colin Fine Oct 9 '16 at 18:28
  • @Colin, thanks for your unexpected (and, in a way, comforting !) comment. – Georges Elencwajg Oct 9 '16 at 18:34
  • What is this modern usage of maître d'? I have only seen it in maître d'hôtel. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 9 '16 at 18:45
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    @BladorthinTheGrey Interesting. I don’t recall ever seeing maître d’hôtel used in English literature—it’s always just been maitre d’ or maître d’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 9 '16 at 18:55
  • It's no more odd than is the French abbreviation (slang) système D. – Drew Oct 9 '16 at 19:19

It appears that it is simple an abbreviation which was used from 1942 probably when he term was used mainly to refer to the manager of a dining room:

  • By the late 19th century, the term was being used to refer to a hotel manager; in the 20th century, it came to mean the manager of a hotel dining room and eventually a headwaiter.

Maitre d'hotel:

  • 1530s, "head domestic," from French maître d'hôtel, literally "house-master," from Old French maistre "master; skilled worker, educator" (12c.). Sense of "hotel manager, manager of a dining room" is from 1890. - Shortened form maître d' is attested from 1942;

Plural of maitre d':

  • When a compound word is split into parts, with or without hyphens (like mother-in-law or attorney general), the plural ending traditionally goes on the most important part (mothers-in-law or attorneys general).

  • But maitre d’ is a special case. The plural of the full version is maîtres d’hôtel, as one would expect, but the plural of the shortened form is maitre d’s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

Note that:

  • the full version has French accents, but the shorter one doesn’t. Also, the last syllable of the abbreviated version is pronounced DEEZ.
  • 1
    And the first syllable is pronounced MATE. – John Lawler Oct 9 '16 at 19:40
  • @John. That's interesting: I had no idea that the r wasn't pronounced. Nor that one pronounced the a as in mate, rather than as in met. – Georges Elencwajg Oct 9 '16 at 20:53
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    Only the first syllable is MATE. The unstressed /ər/ goes between the two stressed syllables, thus: /'metər'di/. The stressed English vowels are both tense, however; /e/ is tense [e:], not lax [ɛ] like the French word maître /mɛtʀ̥/. – John Lawler Oct 9 '16 at 22:19
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    I'm familiar with two pronunciations: the slangier or less educated /'meɪtə'di/ and a more "correct" attempt /'meɪtrə'di/. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 10 '16 at 3:01

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