Thursday, June 24, 2010
Dinner vs. Supper
A quick search of "Dinner vs. Supper" drew quite a few results with few answers. There are plenty of other people confused about what the difference is between the words. The most thorough explanation for dinner vs. supper came from Digital Streets.
According to Wikipedia, and mentioned at Digital Streets, supper is the name for a light evening meal that followed dinner. The term is derived from the French souper, which is related to soup. It is also related to the German word for soup, which is "Suppe".
On the other hand, Wikipedia says that dinner originally referred to the first meal of the day, a heavy meal usually eaten about noon. Eating this noon-time dinner "broke the night's fast" in the new day, and in Old French, circa 1300, "disner" actually meant "breakfast." Further, the lighter meal following dinner has traditionally been referred to as supper, implying they're not so interchangeable after-all.
So dinner isn’t lunch or supper, it's breakfast, and supper, which follows dinner, is really lunch? That's confusing enough, and that's where DS ended the comparison. But there is at least one more difference between dinner and supper: Class differences.
In colonial days, farmers were too busy to eat three meals a day, so they only ate breakfast and dinner. Cooking for the second meal started almost immediately after the first meal of the day because it saved the woman of the household from having to restart the hearth fire.
The wealthy had three meals a day, though: breakfast, dinner, and supper. With urban occupations and more leisure time, there was ample time for eating. Later in the 19th century, cooks and servants allowed the wealthy to host grand dinner parties with lavish meals that lasted well into the evening.
As a result of this class difference then, referring to the evening meal as dinner is fairly formal now. Supper tends to be used to describe a less formal, simpler family meal. That makes sense when you think about it. When people go out on dates, they never talk about having supper, it is usually dinner. But when families are sitting down together for a meal in the evening, they often say "Supper is ready!"
In central Minnesota, I don't often hear people say supper but it still happens often enough for me to ponder the preference of dinner over supper or vice versa. Personally, I like the word dinner better. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the word supper sounds less appetizing. Maybe it has something to do with the popping of the "p" in supper - I also prefer saying soda to pop, which has a similar sound!
Which word do you prefer to call the final meal of the day?
Sara Duane is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area of the great state of Minnesota.