Recently in the Pioneer Hearts Facebook Group there was a discussion about something that quickly became controversial, in a mild lover of history way. Is it historically correct to call the noon meal lunch or dinner? And what exactly is the difference between dinner and supper?
In my books I like to keep things historically accurate without being so archaic the story is incomprehensible, or the old fashioned expressions become obnoxious. Finding the right balance between lunch, dinner, and supper is not a problem because even those who always use one term over another can readily understand if another word is substituted.
However, I decided to find out just what is the history of these words.
In many places, dinner and supper are used interchangeably for the evening meal. There’s a reason for this. The word dinner comes from the Latin word disjējūnāre which means “to break one’s fast.” It refers to the largest meal of the day. That’s why Thanksgiving Dinner is served midday but it’s dinner, while you might attend a New Year’s Eve Dinner just a few weeks later that is served in the late evening. The meals are large, though not necessarily fancy or special.
On the other hand, the word Supper comes from an old French word souper which literally means “evening meal.” There is also a traditional association in the context of Jesus’ last meal taken before his crucifixion, known as the Last Supper. Supper is always in the evening.
Noah Webster wrote in 1828 that “The dinner of fashionable people would be the supper of rustics,” reflecting the prominence of dinner as the term for a midday meal in some rural communities. Those people who grew up in the American South or on farms usually ate larger meals at noontime to give them the stamina to keep working through the afternoon. If you come from a farming background you know that you might work right up to dark or later. A farm wife could prepare and clean up after a large noon meal easier than she could in the evening and sleep is easier when digestion is less burdened.
According to Google, use of the word supper is in decline. This might be because our country is increasingly less rural or it might be because of the homogeneous effect of media that knows no geographic bounds. In any case, of one thing you can be sure, most people now eat their largest meal of the day in the evening.
Back when Sweet Town was thriving, those who lived out on a farm or ranch, like Jack Marek, would probably have a large midday dinner, with a lighter supper in the evening after chores were done.
What do you eat at noon?