I thought it might be time for another round of “What do you call it?” this week, because I’ve been curious about the different terms people have for the meals of the day. I was pondering this recently because I’m pretty sure I grew up calling the evening meal tea, but somewhere along the way I obviously transitioned to dinner, because that’s what my kids have grown up calling it. Incidentally, this confuses my grandmother, who calls the midday meal dinner, while we refer to that meal as lunch!
Of course, my insatiable curiosity led to me do a little exploring on the Internet and I thought I would share a few of the interesting facts I discovered about the names of the daily meals. If you’re not particularly interested in this part, you can skip to the comments and just tell me what terms you use to refer to the main meals of the day. Otherwise, read on!
– The word breakfast first appeared around the 15th Century, and literally refers to breaking the overnight fast.
– As late as the middle ages, breakfast was not considered an essential meal of the day. Medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, actually wrote that eating breakfast committed the sin of ‘eating too soon’ (associated with gluttony), and breakfast was often associated with lower social status (needing energy for manual labour, or being too weak or infirm to make it to the midday meal).
– There is some debate over whether the word lunch or luncheon appeared first, but either way, both words had appeared by the end of the 16th Century.
– It is thought more probable that the word lunch developed first—referring to a hunk or thick slice of food (think bread or cheese)—and that luncheon was then used to refer to the practice of eating this as a regular midday, or informal meal.
– Luncheon was also likely related to the older word nuncheon, which was a light snack or drink in the afternoon.
– The word itself is derived from the Chinese word ch’a, and referred to a drink made by steeping leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.
– In reference to meals, tea could refer to any number of meals, depending on where you are and how it’s used, all of which originally involved serving tea as a beverage:
Afternoon tea – a light afternoon meal that originated in the English upper classes in the 1840s. It was usually served between 4pm and 6pm and involved cakes or bread;
High tea – the use of the word high in this context indicates ‘late’ or ‘well advanced’ rather than ‘sophisticated’. It often included a hot dish, followed by cakes and bread, butter and jam, and actually became the evening meal of the working classes. However, in Australia it is usually used to refer to a formal or more sophisticated afternoon tea (’cause we don’t know no better 😉)
Tea – the evening meal, as mentioned above, used more commonly among the working classes and those in the north of England (upper classes used the term dinner for a formal evening meal, or supper for an informal evening meal).
– In Australia, it is very common to call the evening meal tea; which is obviously why the iconic ‘Vegemite’ song says, “We’re happy little Vegemites, as bright as bright can be, We all enjoy our Vegemite for breakfast, lunch, and tea.” Apparently I’m bucking the trend. Again… 🙃
– If you trace the words dine back to its Latin root, desjunare, it literally means to undo a fast.
– Moving forward in time, the Old French term disner, from which dinner is derived, originally referred to the first meal of the day (which was actually the midday meal—remember ‘breakfast’ wasn’t fashionable!), and then in English, to the main meal of the day (also originally the midday meal).
– It was the fashionable classes that began pushing back the midday meal until later and later in the day, but whenever it was eaten, it referred to the main meal of the day. Historically, the working classes tended to eat dinner in the middle of the day and tea at the end of the day, and the upper classes eventually worked their way to having lunch in the middle of the day and dinner at the end of the day. Have you got that straight? 🙂
– This word is derived from the French word souper, which refers to the last meal of the day.
– In some areas of Canada and the US (particularly areas originally colonised by the French), supper is used to refer to the meal at the end of the day.
– In other areas (both UK and North America), dinner and supper may be used interchangeably, or to make a distinction between a formal evening meal (dinner) and an informal evening meal (supper).
– Then again, supper could simply refer to a snack or light course of cakes and sweets served between the evening meal and bedtime (which is its most common usage in Australia).
Now it’s your turn. What do you call the three main meals where you come from? Don’t forget to share where you’re from!