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Does garçon mean (male) waiters only, not waitresses? I can’t find a site which addresses that question, though etymologically, and in French, it means “boy”.

  • MODERATOR NOTE: Please stop editing in typos, misspellings, and erroneous tags. Continued edits of this nature risk the post being locked for a content dispute. – tchrist Jun 19 '17 at 16:45
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jun 19 '17 at 16:45
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    To make the question more interesting, and not one about the word's definition, you could edit your question and ask what do Americans and native speakers call female servers or waitresses. By the way, even the terms "waiter" and "waitress" are being replaced by the gender neutral term "server" – Mari-Lou A Jun 19 '17 at 16:47
  • In order to capture a server's attention does one call out "garcon", "server", or "waiter/waitress" ? (I can't find that French squiggly symbol on my laptop). PS The question has nothing to do with grammar, but with meaning and usage. The term is, defacto, a French loanword so those tags {meaning, etymology, loan-words, french} appear totally appropriate. – Mari-Lou A Jun 19 '17 at 16:55
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    @user3293056 - calling out "garçon" for a waitress would just sound ridiculous. But you can do it, of course. – user66974 Jun 19 '17 at 17:02
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Garçon is used only for male waiters:

  • A waiter in a French restaurant or hotel.

Origin:

  • French, literally ‘boy’.

(Oxford Dictionary Online)

Garçon

  • From c. 1400 as "young male servant, squire, page." Meaning "a waiter" (especially one in a French restaurant) is a reborrowing from 1788.

(Etymonline)

  • that's not definitive, kinda replies to a different question, and i've already read it – concerned Jun 19 '17 at 16:43
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    @user3293056 - Garçon is used for male waiters, whether you like it or not. – user66974 Jun 19 '17 at 16:44
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    you mean only used for male waiters? could you please stop using the cedilla, i seem to have wronged you in a former life. quoting etymology won't cut it, sorry Josh – concerned Jun 19 '17 at 16:46
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    @user3293056 The cedilla is the correct spelling. – tchrist Jun 19 '17 at 16:47
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    At least in the USA, "Garçon" is not currently used for any servers at all, whether male or female, except as a (somewhat rude) joke. – Mark Beadles Jun 19 '17 at 21:23
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I'm not French, so I'm forced to rely on the net, but my sources tell me that garcon is no longer used, as it is disrepectful and condescending

Instead, for instance, this source suggests serveur/serveuse instead.

Francophones are encouraged to comment.

  • Yes, I can confirm that the term is less and less used in France in this specific usage, sounding now a bit arrogant, when it's not tongue-in-cheek or "played" snobism. And, for the record, I never heard it used in France to refer to a waitress, it's reserved to waiters. – RomainValeri Jun 19 '17 at 20:59
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    While serveur/serveuse might be the current French vernacular, I don't believe that either word would be used in an English-speaking context. – Mark Beadles Jun 19 '17 at 21:25
  • I think if you are summoning a male waiter in France these days you would probably say "monsieur!" (at least that's what I do) as I have also been told that garçon is no longer the thing. Whether you refer to a female waiter as Mme or Mlle, I don't know. Probably on the basis of her apparent age as you would in any circumstance (and put your foot in it). – David Jun 19 '17 at 22:24
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Unfortunately, it is quite hard to find a dictionary entry that explicitly says the waiter must be male. The OED comes quite close, even though the wording technically separates "boy" and "waiter":

garçon, n.
a. A boy, serving-man, waiter; in English use chiefly a waiter in a French hotel or restaurant.

You're right to point out that etymology doesn't cut it, not strictly. After all, garçon in this sense was "reborrowed" as early as 1788, very shortly after the seeming neutral sense "server" (as opposed to "male child") began to appear in French (TLFi entry 1c).

That said, it's worth noting that all nouns have a gender in French and garçon in French could only be used of males at every stage of its development. The fact that the English borrowing is used in French settings according several dictionaries' entries supports the idea that it would behave in conformity.

I'll also add my experience to that of everyone else who feels that garçon is reserved for male waiters. I think this feeling is also influenced by the widespread knowledge among English speakers of the modern French meaning "boy"; I expect that someone hearing "garçon" for the first time will usually receive that translation.


By the way, the cedilla is not optional, even though it's a pain to type. On Macs, the shortcut is Alt/Option + C. On PC, hold ALT and type 1 3 5 on the numpad.

One reason it's not optional is that it changes the sound. English speakers would generally be temped to read garcon "gar-kon" instead of the correct "gar-son" if they happened across it.


As the other commenters note, the most up-to-date answer would be that it's used of neither male nor female waiters, being seen as something of a snobism or, at best, outdated. @WhatRoughBeast's links are helpful.

As we can see from this Ngram, "garçon" is by far the least used (and a search for garçon individually shows a peak at the turn of the 20th century, followed by a tortuous but definite decline). Several times as common are waiter and waitress, and the gender-neutral server has seen a massive spike in the last two decades.

*garçon, server, waiter + waitress*

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    Downvoter, please justify your reasoning. This is an answer offered in good faith, and any improvements would be appreciated. Thanks! – Luke Sawczak Jun 20 '17 at 13:11

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