Friday, February 02, 2007

Dinner and Supper are not Interchangeable Words

Apparently, people all over the country are confused about what name to call the evening meal. I know this because nearly every day, at least one person surfs into this blog having googled the terms "dinner" and "supper." Being the truely Southern country girl that I am, I wish to offer my expert, educated opinion, which should clear up the matter definitively.

Here in my neck of the woods, the meal eaten in the evening is always called supper. If you have moved here from some other area, you should be aware that when someone invites you to supper, you will be eating sometime around 6 p.m. It doesn't matter what type of food you eat in the evening, whether a sandwich, steak, soup, salad, chicken and dumplings, pizza, or tacos; the meal you eat in the evening is always supper. (Sometimes I like to eat breakfast food such as biscuits and gravy and eggs and grits for supper, but I still call it supper.)

So, then, what is dinner? Now here's where it can become confusing, but it really is simple. Dinner is eaten around noontime. Always. However, sometimes we don't eat dinner; instead some days we eat lunch. Here's the difference: Dinner consists of a hot meal that is served on a plate not made of paper. However, if you can hold it in your hand, and/or it comes wrapped in paper or sits on a paper plate it's lunch. A hamburger served hot on a plate is still lunch because you typically pick it up with your hands. Most of what you could eat in a fast food restaurant would qualify as lunch. Dinner is a heavier, more substantial meal than lunch, and it tends to make you sleepier than lunch does. Dinner also tastes better than lunch. It's more satisfiying and more memorable. No one talks about Grandma's Sunday lunches, but they sure do remember her Sunday dinners.

Today's typical adult works outside the home, and usually eats lunch instead of dinner for the noontime meal. However, some working people do eat dinner. How does one know whether he or she is eating dinner or lunch? Some foods could fall into either the lunch or dinner category, for example, say a loaded baked potato. If said potato is served on a plate (and I don't mean a paper plate), then I would call it dinner, but if it comes from a drive-thru barbeque stand, then it's lunch. Soup and salad are some other problematic foods. Usually soup and salad are lunch. However, if the soup is really hearty and is served with some bread, then I'd probably call it dinner. If the salad is just some greenery, then it's lunch, but if it's one of those that's loaded with meat, then I might call that dinner. If the soup and salad are eaten at the same time, then in my book, that qualifies as dinner, but only if both are served in real plates and bowls, not paper.

I don't know what it's like in other parts of the country, but most native Southerners that I know adhere to these definitions without really giving it much thought. These aren't definitions that we were taught, but ones that we just sort of learned through traditional use. However, the line that tends to divide the language of food is being blurred, mainly because of the migration of people from one part of the country to another, and because of television watching. As we are exposed to new and different people with their different ways of speaking, the little things that make us unique, such as our different names for the same thing, are gradually falling by the wayside.

No matter where I go, however, I will never eat dinner after dark.


Dr. Michael Kear said...

Absolutely correct! At least that's how it is here in Oklahoma. We have three meals: breakfast, dinner, and supper (lunch is what you eat in the middle of the day if you're on the go).

I was a teenager before I ever heard the word "dinner" used in reference to an evening meal.

BBLogan said...

LOVE this post! I grew up on a farm in Northeast Nebraska... we actually ate four times a day during the busy seasons of the year (harvest, planting, calving season, etc.)

6:30 a.m. or so - Breakfast

Noon - Dinner
(sit down for a big meal)

4 or 5 p.m. - Lunch
(a sandwich, apple, cookie and water in the field or where ever we were working)

8 or so - Supper
(a big sit down meal after a hard day's work)

So, needless to say, I think lunch is definitely the "on the go" term... that may or may not mean "noon".

Tony Arnold said...

I don't know 'bout this supper v. dinner mess, but dang if I ain't hungry right 'bout now.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all y'all who were brought up with breakfast, dinner, supper...and if you eat a sandwich for dinner, then it's called lunch...after all, did Jesus eat the last DINNER? NOOOOOOO...He ate the last SUPPER!!!
Just the opinion of a truly Southern girl from Louisiana!

Anonymous said...

Up here in the New England, you have supper at your house but you go out to dinner.

Anonymous said...

Just like every other Southerner, you are "Absolutely (IN)correct" about this topic. By definition, dinner is the larger meal, whether eaten earlier or later. Supper is a lighter meal. Time has less to do with it, and location definitely has nothing to bear on the subject.

JMG said...

Anonymous, if I'm "mad about my flat," an American may think I'm angry about my car tire, but a Brit may think I really like my apartment. If I order chips in one part of the earth, I'll get French fries, but I'll get a bag of crunchy potatoes in another location.

If location or region can have a bearing on some words, why not dinner and supper as well?

Language is fluid and changing. A word's definition rarely remains fixed over time (take the word "gay" for example), and people from different regions adopt meanings that may be different from the word's meaning in another region.

And whether you like it or not, if you are invited to Sunday dinner in the South, you'd better show up by noontime, or you won't get to eat.

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify: As annoying as it is, I mean not to say one is wrong if they refer to his or her last meal as "supper"; however, when the debate arises, the involved should understand the definition.

Example: In polite conversation, one would not correct another for saying "supposebly". Another example, one which many educated and well versed people mistakenly use, is "comprise(d)". Incorrectly put, "The group is comprised of 4 people", corrected, "The group comprises 4 people". While you would not correct a college professor, a manager, etc. upon hearing him or her make this mistake, if broached on this topic, you would correct them.

I simply posted to clarify a technical definition, not whether you are a wretched person for using a (eh hem) quote-unqoute "incorrect" term. :-)

Anonymous said...

the last supper is what it is the last supper ,,its breakfast , lunch and dinner !!!! times have changed since ma amd pa kettle