Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dinner vs. Supper

Dinner and supper. They seem so interchangeable. They both can refer to the last meal of the day. And it seems that the preference for "dinner" over "supper" is both regional and generational. In the south and the east it is supper that reigns, and in the north and the west, dinner is, well, what's for dinner. Older people tend to say supper while the younger generations lean toward dinner. What are the actual differences between the meanings of these words?

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. 

47 comments:

  1. > Which word do you prefer to call the final meal of the day?

    Bedtime snack

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dinner! Supper bothers me too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree...I say dinner, my sister says supper and yet we grew up in the same household together, strange!

      Delete
  3. Dinner sounds more formal and somewhat stuffy to me while supper makes me think of a family sittting down for a hearty meal full of good times; therefore, I like using supper.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I grew up in New England, and I completely concur with this person's "take" on this.

      Delete
    2. I am a Christsian and our Lord uses the word "sup" in the Gospels, which means to dip or soak. So the word supper can be derived from the Greek. The Bible was oft en translated in Greek from Hebrew and other languages that the New Testament was written in. Obviously there is much to know from the Word of our God.

      Delete
    3. To me, it always seemed the opposite. I'm from the north, and dinner just always seemed like a "normal" word, versus supper, which always made me think of "THE LAST SUPPER" and formalities and whatnot. One of my parents (from Ohio) uses "supper", the other (from Pennsylvania) uses "dinner", and I use the latter.

      Delete
  4. I also like supper and use supper and this is what i teach my grandchildren

    ReplyDelete
  5. In the Texas Panhandle where I grew up in the 70s/80s, "dinner" was the noon meal and "supper" was the evening meal. "Lunch" was not really used until the old New Deal generation started passing on.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I say both supper and dinner.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I grew up in Minnesota, and we all grew up saying supper. My parents say it, and my grandparents say it. You get the picture. Supper rocks. Saying dinner reminds me of the Grey Poupon commercial...too stuffy.

    ReplyDelete
  8. How about Sinner or Dupper? I kind of like Dupper...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Could be I'm all wet, but I tend to associate the term supper with British roots, dinner being somehow more American.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...which makes me think of supper as being more stuffy and fancy (French/British/the south) and American dinner being more modern and normal because we always called our last meal of the day dinner growing up. Now I wish my parents hadn't called it dinner, because it drives me crazy when people call lunch dinner or dinner supper

      Delete
  10. In our house, supper is defined more by what we are eating than by the time of day. Supper is a family meal eaten at the kitchen table while dinner is comprised of "fancier" food such as a roast eaten in the dining room at either noon or in the evening and on Sunday or holidays.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Growing up in the 60's on Wisconsin's east coast we always called the noon meal dinner and the evening meal supper. I guess I don't care what you call the meal, just don't call me late for it.

    p.s. There are many dining establishments that call themselves Supper Clubs, but I never heard of one called a Dinner Club.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I like Breakfast for morning, Lunch or Dinner for the noonish meal, and Supper for the last meal of the day.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Dinner is what I have always called the last meal of the day. My husband, with East Texas roots, refers to it as supper. He also calls a pond a tank. Both seem odd to me.

    ReplyDelete
  14. On the East Coast of Canada, the older generation definitely favoured "supper" and ate in late afternoon - 5 o'clock or even earlier. Social class also seems to influence this: blue collar - early "supper."

    But to many of the younger generations a later evening "dinner" is preferred.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Who cares.IT's time to eat work's for me

    ReplyDelete
  16. To me, coming from a farming community:
    Breakfast First meal of the day. (about 5:00 am)
    Dinner, noon meal.
    Lunch, The cup of coffee, piece of pie, mid afternoon. (3:00 pm)
    Supper, the great meal of the day. (6:00--7:00 pm).
    Supper, the great meal of the day. All the trimmings.
    Easter Dinner, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner, as they seem to be always served in early, mid, to late afternoon, but it is the main meal, served early.
    Just my thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The 3 meals of the day.

    What interests me is people that write the same way that they speak.."I done seen five deers"
    Is it regional ? No, I have heard supper used in many areas of the country.

    Our language is wide open. Take all the different words used for you or a group of people. You, y'all, ya'll, you'nz, you guys, yo'....

    ReplyDelete
  18. People go to a "Supper Club" to have Dinner. You never hear "fine" supping, you always will say "fine dining." But you go to a "diner" to have a quick cheap meal.

    My Dad who is 86 tells me that he always thought of dinner as the mid-day meal, but growing up I never heard it used that way, and always thought of dinner as the the main meal. In school the mid-day meal was called lunch. We either brought our "lunch" or were given "lunch" money, never "dinner" money.

    We always used supper and dinner interchangeably. Personally, It seems to me that dinner is the more formal word for special or planned occasions.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I grew up in Western KY and I heard both supper and dinner referred to as the evening meal. My parents (mom and stepdad) called it dinner but my grandparents called it supper. We now live in East Texas (where my hubby grew up incidentally) and where it is almost always called supper. My hubby teases me because I have been calling it supper more so lately just to be different and to drive him a little crazy. LOL!
    The only time it makes a difference is when you are discussing time of day to meet or do something. If the other person says "sometime after dinner" (like my father does) it is wise to make sure you clarify you are talking about the same time of day. Would that be afternoon or evening? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  20. I live in Iowa, grew up on a farm in the '70's & if my brother & I were outside playing, my Mom would yell out the door,"supper's ready!" Both my Mom & Dad grew up in the Depression era. I only hear the term dinner used for the last meal of the day. I use both interchangeably; supper more by habit

    ReplyDelete
  21. In the south (I live in Georgia), supper and dinner is definitely generational. My grandparents use supper, my parents use supper and dinner interchangeably, and my brother and I normally use dinner.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Supper bugs me. It sounds like something old ladies from Iowa farming communities would day. Dinner is what it is. Going out to dinner! I never even hear the word supper anymore. Too small town christian sounding for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^what a nut! Go find your safe-place.

      Delete
  23. I am from the west coast and I have seen "late supper" menus in hotels and certain clubs and bars. Late suppers are smaller lighter meals such as soup, salad, sandwiches, served after 10 pm. But the main evening meal is dinner.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Supper is the informal last meal of the day served at the kitchen table. Dinner is the Sunday after church midday formal meal served in the dining room with Grandmas fine china and matching glasses. It's usually roast beef or ham with several sides dishes. We eat supper in about 10 minutes with another 10 to clean up. It's takes around 20 minutes to eat dinner and about 30 to clean up. So that's the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I always understood supper to be a late night snack before bed.
    Curiously it seems to me to be used in reference to the main evening meal most enthusiastically by the same people who address others as "darling".
    It's a grandiose, highfalutin sounding word that speaks volumes about the user.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I don't recall Jesus having the last dinner and it well kniwn that it was late in the day. Dinner is the noon meal.

    ReplyDelete
  27. As i had found in Webster's supper was the evening meal done at home, dinner was the evening meal you went out for, as i now live in the south ant gave my friend hell for calling lunch dinner i wanted to find out what was actually what and that is what i found.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I grew up on a farm in Ontario. We were up before the birds and had breakfast. Usually a couple of hard boiled eggs and bread. Lunch came around 11 o'clock.Dinner around 5 o'clock and supper around 9 or 10 o'clock.The only day it was different was Sunday. That was church day . Supper came later and was often the largest meal of the day.Church lasted too long.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Just to throw everyone off....in the Catalan language (Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain), which dates back to medieval times, the word for the midday meal is "dinar" while the word for the evening meal is "sopar", pronounced soo-PAH. Thought it was interesting

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Where I'm from in Southern Louisiana, dinner and lunch are interchangeable depending on how much is served. Supper is always the last meal of the day unless it was a formal occasion, then dinner applies as well. Family always said supper.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. I'm from northeast Wisconsin and I have the exact same definitions as you have Jeff.

      Delete
  30. I live in North Carolina, but I used to live in Minneapolis. I recall saying pop instead of soda. Soda is said in North Carolina. I usually say dinner. Supper does sound more informal.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I was born and raised in Indiana, and have always said supper, when around the house, however I often heard dinner when AWAY from home.....so I don't really know. They both sound right to me.

    ReplyDelete
  32. So, here's what my granny said. In the South, Supper was more popular with Blacks and poor White families. Dinner is defined by being at a dinner table and having a spread of food. This is where we get Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner. For well to do families, they could afford a large spread of food daily. Thus, for them supper became an occasional light meal after a formal dinner (such as soup, crackers, tea, etc...) Poor white families and most Blacks could not. In essence, dinner was for those who could afford a dinner table. Everyone else just had supper. Which brings us to supper. Supper is defined as the last meal of the day of the day not at a table and usually serve yourself. In the North, most people (city slickers) could afford the dinner table, etc..... so they became used to having dinner with the family. Thus, supper became obsolete for the most part. For the Northerners who later had occasional economic stresses and felt the brunt of inflation, they began to see the occasional after dinner meal/snack known as supper to well off Southerners as a formal embellishment. Today, granny says, most people are poor and don't know it. They really are having supper (on the run, separate seats, separate times, watching TV, etc....,) but dinner has become the norm as far as what its called.

    ReplyDelete
  33. As far as the time of day, Dinner is usually earlier than Supper, but differs as far as the types of food and the overall amount. (according to granny)

    ReplyDelete
  34. .....differs from lunch that is.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thank you, my co worker and friend were discussing this at lunch Friday. I am from Indiana and she is from Georgia, I loved your blog.

    ReplyDelete