What does the word ‘hermetic’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: hermetic…

I’m a bit of a foodie so I read New York Times restaurant reviews with particular interest. Not that I’ll ever likely be able to eat at any of these places, but at least I can dine in the pleasure of my own mind’s eye tastebuds.

A recent Pete Wells review of the restaurant Per Se (shown in the photo above) made me a bit grateful I won’t ever be able to eat there. Under the ominous headline “At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, slips and stumbles,” here is what Wells had to say about his experience… and the prices:

Dinner or lunch at this grand, hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous restaurant brings a protracted march of many dishes. In 2004, the year Per Se opened, the price for nine courses was $150 before tax and tip; last week, it went up to $325, with service included.

Initially, I was puzzled by the word hermetic. What did the adjective mean, I wondered? Then, when I looked it up, I thumped myself on the head. Of course I’d heard — and even used — the term hermetically sealed many times before. It means a seal or closure that is complete and airtight. And, by obvious extension, it also means something that is impervious to external influence. But it turns out hermetic has another meaning: of or relating to the mystical and alchemical writings or teachings arising in the first three centuries and attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.

Looking at the etymology of the word, it comes from  from the Latin hermeticus, from Greek Hermes, god of science and art (among other things). Trismegistus supposedly invented the process of making a glass tube airtight (a process in alchemy) using a secret seal.

I’m guessing that Wells wanted to suggest the restaurant was impervious to external influence — such as the need to have more reasonable pricing for patrons.

Scroll to Top