If you knew only a little French, you might interpret this phrase as meaning “out of work,” but in fact it means little snack foods served before or outside of (hors) the main dishes of a meal (the oeuvres).
English speakers have trouble mastering the sounds in this phrase, but it is normally rendered “or-DERVES,” in a rough approximation of the original. Mangled spellings like “hors’dourves” are not uncommon.
Actually, many modern food writers have decided we needn’t try to wrap our tongues around this peculiar foreign phrase and now prefer “starters.” They are also commonly called “appetizers.”
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