Thursday, December 10, 2009


I'm learning a unique colloquialism to rural farm areas: the difference between "lunch", "dinner", and "supper".

Now I've had some experience with these terms. My mother came from rural northern Minnesota, and on occasion used the term supper. But mostly she treated this the same way that my grandfather treated his Swedish -- as something to be forgotten. Both were seen as being "less than", for my grandfather, less American, for my mother, less urban.

So here I am again, hearing people talk about lunch at 9pm, dinner at noon, and supper at all kinds of times. So as a service to myself and you, dear reader, I will attempt to put these terms into context.

Lunch - This is a "break meal". My guess is that it came from times when everyone would be out farming and doing chores (or youngsters in school), and they took a meal with them into the fields. I have heard this term used by the snowplow driver here in town for his 8am meal, and by a waitress at The Restaurant for her post work meal at 9pm. The meaning is the same, though. Its a meal taken during a break from working.

Dinner - This is a formal meal, but not necessarily the evening meal. Oftentimes, this is the noon meal. But whenever it is, it is usually the largest meal of the day, and all (or most) of the family is expected to be in attendance. I was quite surprised when on Thanksgiving at The Restaurant we filled our Thanksgiving Dinner seatings at noon & 2pm, but had no takers for later. I grew up with the concept that the largest meal of the day was always the evening meal. I now know better.

Supper - This is the less formal meal. It can be considered the "other meal" from what I can tell. This is larger than a snack, but not necessarily by much, and isn't necessarily taken as a family. I've noticed that people will have sandwiches or soups as this meal. This may be taking into account the reality of rural life that family members often work on different schedules.

So, I'm learning something new. If you have more input on this, I'd love to hear it. Or maybe other meal colloquialisms that are unique to you.

Gotta go now. Dinner's cooking.


Kate said...

Ha! I have breakfast, lunch and supper. Dinner is on Sundays when you eat a big meal - the biggest one of the week. Simple. I don't understand dinner to be the lunch meal, but that's what it is here in farm country - rural SD.

Bad Alice said...

Ah, yes, in the South dinner is the Sunday go-to-meeting midday-ish meal. Supper is the evening meal. Supper isn't necessarily light, but it is always in the evening. Some people have started using dinner for the evening meal, but, well, it just doesn't sit right.

Y | O | Y said...

I'm with Kate. I grew up with Breakfast, lunch, and supper with Sunday dinner mid-afternoon.

My grandparents, who were farmers, had breakfast, dinner, and supper. Supper was a re-heat of dinner.

Something I noticed in your post was use of the term "youngster." Have you always said that or is it something you've picked up?

froggy said...

Tea! Late afternoon, in my day, after school which was later than it is now.

froggy said...

Oh, and that was in Canada.

Al In The County said...

I've used youngsters off and on, especially once I got into politics, for some reason (where the term "kids" is used for people who work with volunteers and field for some reason). Anyway, there's that.

Tea! That's a unique one, Froggy.

Java said...

I picked up a quaint British idea when my older kids were young. Evidently at some point in the past century (maybe earlier) those ingenious Brits came up with something called "elevenses" which was something like a large snack or a small lunch, eaten round about 11:00 in the morning. I guess it tided one over until tea time. Or, if one is a hobbit, it comes after first and second breakfast, but before lunch. After which they might have an afternoon snack before tea time, and then dinner.

Here in The South (TM) Dinner is the big meal. Sometimes it is eaten in the evening, sometimes at mid day. Sorta' depends on which day. Sunday dinner, I learned from my mother-in-law, is always served in the early afternoon, after church. We eat breakfast (or don't, but it's always breakfast time) in the morning, lunch is either the mid day meal or the mid-shift meal break for night shift workers, and supper is the evening meal. Dinner is tossed in there when it seems to be a more formal affair, especially if guests are invited. This info applies to the east coast South; Georgia, the "southern" parts of Florida (mostly northern parts of the state), and the Carolinas. It might be different on the other side of Georgia. I'm not as familiar with those parts.

Joy said...

I've never heard of lunch describing any meal other than the one in the middle of the day. Dinner, however, can be a larger meal like Sunday dinner or Thanksgiving dinner around noon or one o'clock. We say supper here in the South for evening meals or dinner sometimes.