Meals: Supper, breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner.

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mjscott

Senior Member
American English
My mother, an Oklahoma prairie girl, said that supper is the larger meal of the day after breakfast. If it's eaten at lunch time, it's breakfast, supper, and dinner. If your larger meal is eaten in the evening, it's breakfast, lunch (or dinner), then supper.

From another post, I take it supper is not as often used in today's English--that breakfast, lunch and dinner is more the mode.

1. Does anyone else have any input from the octagenarians (or older) in their families concerning the word supper?

2. Do you use supper as a replacement word for lunch or dinner?
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Supper is very common - but it refers to a very light something eaten late in the evening to fill that yawning gap between dinner and breakfast.
    It could, on occasion, be a much more substantial affair, but that would be on some kind of special occasion.
    Supper would never be used to refer to a meal eaten in the middle of the day.
     

    petereid

    Senior Member
    english
    In some parts of the country (UK) it is what most people would call Dinner, in the evening. I have friends who invite me to "supper" which is their main meal of the day.
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    In Scotland I often hear people ask for "one for a supper" when they are buying fish & chips at the chippy, so I usually associate supper with dinner or tea.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    In Australia,
    supper means a snack or very light meal eaten late in the evening.
    It is not a full meal.

    The evening meal can be called tea or dinner.

    My mother always called the main meal dinner.
     

    CarolSueC

    Senior Member
    USA--English
    Growing up in New England, we usually referred to the weekday evening meal, a substantial one, as "supper." On Sundays the main meal was at mid-day and was called "dinner" as would a large holiday meal, such as "Thanksgiving dinner," that could occur from noon on. I'm not sure when I switched to calling "supper" "dinner;" but if my parents were alive, I think they'd probably still be using "supper." (They'd be over 100, but I'm in my 60's.) The only time that "supper" was a light meal would have been on a holiday when the main meal would have been mid-afternoon, requiring a light supper later in the evening.
     

    Noupidou

    New Member
    English U.S.A.
    For us, dinner was the big meal - eaten at noon or in the evening. In our farming family, dinner was at noon and in the evening, we had supper. In families where the big meal was in the evening, they had lunch at noon, dinner in the evening.
     

    Cayuga

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    For us, dinner was the big meal - eaten at noon or in the evening. In our farming family, dinner was at noon and in the evening, we had supper. In families where the big meal was in the evening, they had lunch at noon, dinner in the evening.
    That's exactly how we used it, Noupi. Most days of the year, we'd eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any time we visited our Italian friends on a Sunday, we'd have breakfast, dinner, and supper.

    I guess if we'd ever eaten the large meal of the day in the morning, we'd say we had dinner, lunch, and supper.
     

    equivoque

    Senior Member
    Australia - English
    In my experience, the evening meal is only referred to as "supper" if lunch was a large affair (in my youth, that would have been Sunday, when Sunday dinner was lunch) and "just a light supper" is sufficient. Otherwise, supper is a small meal "snack" taken later in the evening after dinner, or later in the evening because dinner was skipped altogether, for any number of reasons (show/movies/cocktail party/unplanned catastrophe) and a large meal is impractical.

    Dinner and "tea" are also interchangeable but tea is the evening meal and nothing special. "Tea" seems to be used less frequently now, at least, around this neck of the woods.
     

    equivoque

    Senior Member
    Australia - English
    No, you misunderstood me! I wasn't offended, I just wanted to make sure no-one assumed I was explaining the meaning of the words, as I realize that they can be different, depending on where you come from.
     

    lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I grew up calling the meals breakfast, lunch and dinner, and anything eaten between dinner and bedtime was a snack. However, my grandmother and great-grandmother always referred to the meal served somewhere around noon as "dinner" and the meal served about 6pm as "supper" regardless of their size. I don't remember either of them using the word "lunch".

    I had always thought it was a generational difference, but as I read everyone's posts I now think it may have been at least in part because of their lifestyles. Both of these ladies were farmer's wives. They were accustomed to preparing huge breakfasts and huge dinners to serve the menfolk who were burning a massive number of calories out in the fields. If I remember their stories correctly, supper was the light meal of the day on the farm. After the farms were sold and the ladies moved to the city, the sizes of the meals changed but "dinner" was still served at about noon and "supper" was about 6pm.

    It also may be in part because they were the most recent immigrants in our family. From the other posts, it sounds like they came from countries whose residents call it "supper". Since neither of these ladies are here to answer my questions anymore, I'll probably never know for sure.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In Scotland I often hear people ask for "one for a supper" when they are buying fish & chips at the chippy, so I usually associate supper with dinner or tea.
    Ah, that is a different thing altogether. From time to time we have fish and chips for our evening meal - for our dinner. I go down to the chippy and ask for X fish suppers (X being the number who will be having dinner).
    A fish supper from the chippy consists of a piece of succulent cod dipped in batter and deep fried plus a generous helping of chips (the thick sticks of deep-fried potato that were discussed HERE).

    In this context, supper is a generic description of something with chips. So I could ask for a cod supper, haddock supper, a chicken supper, a sausage supper (battered or plain), a pastie supper, a pie supper ... and I would get the appropriate ingredient with chips.
    equivoque said:
    Dinner and "tea" are also interchangeable but tea is the evening meal and nothing special. "Tea" seems to be used less frequently now, at least, around this neck of the woods.
    I forgot about "tea". As a child, we always had breakfast, dinner and tea. Tea was really what used to be called high tea. The characteristic of tea was that it included something cooked (or salad in summer) bread and butter, and of course tea to drink.

    And of course it would be possible to have a fish supper for your tea:)
     

    Fox30News

    New Member
    English
    Ah, that is a different thing altogether. From time to time we have fish and chips for our evening meal - for our dinner. I go down to the chippy and ask for X fish suppers (X being the number who will be having dinner).
    A fish supper from the chippy consists of a piece of succulent cod dipped in batter and deep fried plus a generous helping of chips (the thick sticks of deep-fried potato that were discussed ).

    In this context, supper is a generic description of something with chips. So I could ask for a cod supper, haddock supper, a chicken supper, a sausage supper (battered or plain), a pastie supper, a pie supper ... and I would get the appropriate ingredient with chips.
    I forgot about "tea". As a child, we always had breakfast, dinner and tea. Tea was really what used to be called high tea. The characteristic of tea was that it included something cooked (or salad in summer) bread and butter, and of course tea to drink.

    And of course it would be possible to have a fish supper for your tea:)
    If I heard anyone talk about having tea. I'd think they were talking about the drink.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    If I heard anyone talk about having tea. I'd think they were talking about the drink.
    You mark yourself as an AE speaker.

    When I was a child, many decades ago, the words supper and dinner were nearly interchangeable, with dinner used only a little more frequently to describe the evening meal. Over the years, the use of supper in AE has declined. It's still commonly understood, but not much used except by older people and those in some fairly isolated small towns. Living in a small town, with lots of people over the age of seventy, I probably hear the word more than I would in most parts of the US.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    When I was a child we had tea in the evenings, having had our main meal of the day in the middle of the day.

    At that time my grandmother ran a small hotel and offered Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, and High Tea.
    High Tea was, again, not the main meal of the day, but was quite substantial in itself.
    As my mother assisted my grandmother, throughout the summer, in the running of the hotel - and as we children couldn't be left with my father for the three months, we spent summer in a semi-unsupervised way, in and out of the hotel where our mother was too busy to pay us much attention.
    The hotel catered for families and the general rule was that Tea was for children and High Tea was for parents.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Supper is very common - but it refers to a very light something eaten late in the evening to fill that yawning gap between dinner and breakfast.
    It could, on occasion, be a much more substantial affair, but that would be on some kind of special occasion.
    Supper would never be used to refer to a meal eaten in the middle of the day.
    I was going to say the above almost word for word, but I was going to add that my Mum's friend from Yorkshire refers to it as the standard term for the evening meal, and I see in post three Petereid has beaten me to that too so...I'll note that my partner, born and bred in Buckinghamshire calls mid-day meal (which I call lunch, although born and bred in Buckinghamshire too) dinner and the evening meal is tea.

    For me "tea" is a light evening meal where you've had so much for lunch that you don't feel like cooking. It would be something involving toast and crumpet probably. Growing up we always had tea on a Sunday because we would have a roast at lunch-time.
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    I was taught in school back home that "supper" and "dinner" can be used interchangeably, obviously that's NOT the case here. I guess that's why they say "the Last Supper" instead of "dinner". :) Now I know that supper means light meal/snack before the real thing - dinner, which could well be a big feast. :)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I was taught in school back home that "supper" and "dinner" can be used interchangeably, obviously that's NOT the case here. I guess that's why they say "the Last Supper" instead of "dinner". :) Now I know that supper means light meal/snack before the real thing - dinner, which could well be a big feast. :)
    No - for some people it means the main evening meal, and for others it means a light snack after the main evening meal (dinner). I tend to be awake until the early hours of the morning, rarely asleep before 2 often later. I will have a snack of a small sandwich or something similar around midnight which I would call supper (but I don't have breakfast, so it's really just a reorganisation of the traditional meal times I suppose).
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Thank you for the clarification, timpeac, so supper could mean both "dinner"/"main evening meal" AND night snack/light meal before one goes to bed or anytime after dinner and bedtime? Sorry if I have misunderstood you. :)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Thank you for the clarification, so supper could mean both "dinner"/"main evening meal" AND night snack/light meal before one goes to bed or anytime after dinner and bedtime? Sorry if I have misunderstood you. :)
    Well, dinner for some means the lunch-time meal - so let's avoid all terminology - "supper" can mean "main evening meal" or it can mean "snack eaten after the main evening meal but before bed".:)

    I should add that I have also heard some people talk about "tea" for "main evening meal" too. Being greedy by nature I don't like this because it sounds to me like I wouldn't get a decent meal. I find it hard to imagine a three-course meal with wine and digestif being described as "tea"!:D
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    I'm clear with "supper" now but a bit confused with "dinner for some means the lunch-time meal" statement. I thought it's lunch one would use to describe a lunch-time meal. Why crossover these words and make all terminology a mess? I really don't get it. >"<
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Well, dinner for some means the lunch-time meal - so let's avoid all terminology - "supper" can mean "main evening meal" or it can mean "snack eaten after the main evening meal but before bed".:)

    I should add that I have also heard some people talk about "tea" for "main evening meal" too. Being greedy by nature I don't like this because it sounds to me like I wouldn't get a decent meal. I find it hard to imagine a three-course meal with wine and digestif being described as "tea"!:D
    Should I simply use "breakfast", "lunch", "dinner", and "supper/bedtime snack" for the sake of simplicity then? The use of "tea" may sound odd to an AE speaker only because it's BE. Same thing happens with Simplified VS Traditional Chinese. Yikes!!
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I'm clear with "supper" now but a bit confused with "dinner for some means the lunch-time meal" statement. I thought it's lunch one would use to describe a lunch-time meal. Why crossover these words and make all terminology a mess? I really don't get it. >"<
    Well, because no one is crossing over anything:D People aren't speaking English so that it's easy for foreigners to understand - they are just speaking as their friends and parents do;). For some they use the word "dinner" to talk of the lunchtime meal, others for the evening meal - but I expect you'll find within the same family and groups of friends they use the same term (and this will usually be true for whole geographical areas).

    Linguistically these terms seem to be very fluid in other languages I've studied. I think it probably comes from different cultures and habits within cultures as to which meal is the main one. After all there was (I believe) a time when breakfast was the largest meal of the day. Perhaps people ate dinner then! From an etymological point of view I presume that "dinner" and "to dine" are linked and "to dine" means simply "to eat a meal".
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Should I simply use "breakfast", "lunch", "dinner", and "supper/bedtime snack" for the sake of simplicity then? The use of "tea" may sound odd to an AE speaker only because it's BE. Same thing happens with Simplifed VS Traditional Chinese. Yikes!!
    I think that "breakfast" "lunch" and "dinner" are the most common words in time order, and I would advise you to use those, yes. I would also advise you to be very aware for local differences (as am I myself). If someone from another region of the country (even if they now live where I do) said "you must come to dinner tomorrow!" I would check what time of day they meant.
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    It's attributed to people's perception of a particular language I suppose. You're right and I haven't thought about that in my previous posts, at least not this deep. :) I realise that in many European countries like Spain or France people tend to eat their lunches rather LATE(usually after a siesta they call) And it's all about culture differences you're damn right. :) In my neck of the woods(I've learned this term rather late), people have more fixed schedules as to eating meals. We don't eat late lunches(maybe some do) or supper/night or late night snack or ... it's just me. :)
     

    Nasdiego

    New Member
    Arabic
    In my point of view, supper is the meal that people usually eat in the afternon, and it is usually light and the main meal on the day. However, my hostfamiy says that it could be a light and main meal on the afternoon, yet, however, it could be a very light meal that people eat before sleeping. Furthermore, I've heard that supper could be a party that food is served on the party.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    My mother, an Oklahoma prairie girl, said that supper is the larger meal of the day after breakfast. If it's eaten at lunch time, it's breakfast, supper, and dinner. If your larger meal is eaten in the evening, it's breakfast, lunch (or dinner), then supper.

    From another post, I take it supper is not as often used in today's English--that breakfast, lunch and dinner is more the mode.

    1. Does anyone else have any input from the octagenarians (or older) in their families concerning the word supper?

    2. Do you use supper as a replacement word for lunch or dinner?

    I'm a 52-year-old Midwesterner who grew up in a rural area in Central Illinois. When I was a boy, we called the midday meal dinner and the evening meal supper. However, at school the midday meal was referred to as lunch.

    Nowadays I live in a big city and use lunch and dinner for the midday meal and evening meal, respectively.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    In my younger days in Surrey we had breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. As many before have already said, supper was a light snack before going to bed. How we ate in those days! All good food, too, no junk!.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    The Tale of the Pie and the Pattypan said:
    I was just going to invite you to come here, to supper, my dear Ribby, to eat something most delicious.
    The Tale of Peter Rabbit said:
    But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries, for supper.
    One specialist of Beatrix Potter in Japan is assuming the following:

    morning: breakfast​

    noon: dinner

    night: supper​
    or

    morning: breakfast​

    noon: lunch​

    night: dinner
    So, in the case of Peter Rabbit, he claims that Flopsy and Cotton-tail must have eaten dinner around noon when Peter was away rushing around in Mr McGregor's garden.
    Is it really true?
     

    The Scrivener

    Banned
    England. English
    One specialist of Beatrix Potter in Japan is assuming the following:

    morning: breakfast​
    noon: dinner
    night: supper​
    or

    morning: breakfast​
    noon: lunch​
    night: dinner
    So, in the case of Peter Rabbit, he claims that Flopsy and Cotton-tail must have eaten dinner around noon when Peter was away rushing around in Mr McGregor's garden.
    Is it really true?
    At the time of Beatrix Potter, dinner was often eaten at midday. If this was done, then supper was the last meal of the day. Some people had breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper (a light meal before going to bed). It was very much a class thing.

    In parts of Britain people call their meals breakfast, dinner and tea. In this case "tea" is actually as substantial as a dinner, and dinner is a lighter meal equivalent to lunch.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    That's interesting, and new to me!
    You mean, tea>dinner! That's completely new to me!

    Could you tell me if the following pattern is possible?

    morning: breakfast
    noon: lunch
    night: supper
     

    The Scrivener

    Banned
    England. English
    That's interesting, and new to me!
    You mean, tea>dinner! That's completely new to me!

    Could you tell me if the following pattern is possible?

    morning: breakfast
    noon: lunch
    night: supper
    In the north of England, in particular, men will return home from work expecting to find their "tea" ready and waiting on the table. I know some people who are from Yorkshire and they always refer to their evening meal as "tea". It is a hearty meal, with meat or fish plus vegetables. Frequently followed by a pudding, such as apple pie and custard.

    Your pattern is possible, because in other regions of Britain the evening meal is called supper. It is the same as "tea" or dinner.

    I believe "supper" is commonly used in Scotland.

    We are a strange lot!
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Let me explain the context of the passage in Peter Rabbit.

    Around noon, Peter was in Mr. McGregor's garden. In the meantime, his sisters (Cotton-tail and Mopsy) was in their home (rabbit hole). It was not until Peter was back home that they (those three rabbits) had supper.
     

    Ecossaise

    Senior Member
    English
    Supper (derived from French souper) is a light or informal evening meal. It was served if dinner was taken at midday.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In AE (or at least in my parent's home) we had to be home in time for supper which was served at 6:00 PM each day.

    Lunch was served at noon.

    And breakfast was served shortly after awakening.
     

    dobes

    Senior Member
    US English(Boston/NY)
    When I was growing up in New England, 'dinner' was used to designate the heaviest meal of the day, whether it was served at noon or in the evening. Lunch was used if the noon meal was the lighter of the two, and supper if the evening meal was a light one. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday, but breakfast, dinner, and supper on Sunday.

    So, formally, the answer to your question - could you have breakfast, lunch, and supper -- would be no, because the heavier of lunch and supper would be replaced with the word 'dinner'. But informally, the answer is yes - people do speak that way, I've probably used those terms myself many times, and everyone understands that lunch is the noon meal, light or heavy, and supper the evening one.

    But Scrivener writes above that the evening meal is 'frequently followed by a pudding, such as apple pie and custard'. I am confused by the word 'pudding' as used by the British. Do you call all desserts 'pudding'? And what else is 'pudding'? I know you have some savory ones, too. Right now, I have the idea that British people eat an awful lot of gelatinous food!
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    When I was growing up in New England, 'dinner' was used to designate the heaviest meal of the day, whether it was served at noon or in the evening. Lunch was used if the noon meal was the lighter of the two, and supper if the evening meal was a light one. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday, but breakfast, dinner, and supper on Sunday.

    So, formally, the answer to your question - could you have breakfast, lunch, and supper -- would be no, because the heavier of lunch and supper would be replaced with the word 'dinner'. But informally, the answer is yes - people do speak that way, I've probably used those terms myself many times, and everyone understands that lunch is the noon meal, light or heavy, and supper the evening one.

    But Scrivener writes above that the evening meal is 'frequently followed by a pudding, such as apple pie and custard'. I am confused by the word 'pudding' as used by the British. Do you call all desserts 'pudding'? And what else is 'pudding'? I know you have some savory ones, too. Right now, I have the idea that British people eat an awful lot of gelatinous food!
    Here's something to make you hungry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkshire_Pudding

    Not "pudding" at all in the American sense, but VERY tasty!!!!!
     
    Thanks a lot for the links!!! They are all extremely interesting, even riveting, I would say. What amazes me most of all after reading the vast information you have kindly offered is that there is really a huge variety of different meanings people want to convey when saying "lunch-dinner-supper-tea-high tea". I have never thought before that the meanings can be so versatile, so ambiguous as they have turned out to be. In the posts which may be found following the links above, I would like to emphasize two aspects:

    1) When invited "to a dinner tomorrow" by a person for whom English language is a mother tongue you must always specify the exact time he/she means. Otherwise, it might happen, for example, that you come in the mid-afternoon (if it is a day-off and you are free from work) whereas he expects to see you in the evening. I will remember this.

    2) The second idea is the one suggested (exclaimed!!!) by one of the members whose post contains in one of the first links above: What is the use of making such a mess? Why not aggreeing unanimously to use the words in the same way, at least, within one country? Nevertheless, my words are not a reproach or disapproval, heaven forbid, they are more likely a great surprise. I am Russian and we do not have any differences when referring to various sorts of meal. Nor do our neighbours: Ukraine, Belorussia, etc. I see now that it is one tiny part of YOUR numerous traditions.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    ...Why not aggreeing unanimously to use the words in the same way, at least, within one country?
    ...
    You can think of the situation as a smaller, local version of the question "Why is there more than one language on the planet?"

    There actually is quite a bit of agreement.
    Breakfast is always the first meal of the day (to break your fast).
    Lunch can only be the middle meal.
    Supper is always later than lunch, and almost always a "light meal".
    Dinner is a big meal.
    Tea is a drink but finds its way into names of several "meals" some light some large.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    You can think of the situation as a smaller, local version of the question "Why is there more than one language on the planet?"

    There actually is quite a bit of agreement.
    Breakfast is always the first meal of the day (to break your fast).
    Lunch can only be the middle meal.
    Supper is always later than lunch, and almost always a "light meal".:cross:I don't agree with that one. It is light for me, certainly, but I have come across it countless times meant as a main evening meal. In my part of the world (southern England) when it occurs I wonder if it might be a bit of faux modesty (and presumably the people would be told it is smart casual and turn up to find their hosts in DJs!:D). I'm not so sure of the status of it in the north of England.
    Dinner is a big meal.
    Tea is a drink but finds its way into names of several "meals" some light some large.
    Comment above:).
     
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