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WTF is Supper?


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<RANTMODE>

Yesterday, my three year old came home from school and had the temerity to refer to her bowl of 'wiggly pastas and red sauce' as 'supper'.

I'm getting increasingly apoplectic about supper.

It's a repulsive word, invariably delivered as a pervasive, toffy, nasal bray....

'...we're having a few friends over for SUPP - AAAAAH!'

It sets my bloody teeth on edge.

My family never had 'supper'. We had tea or dinner.

There are a couple of theories about 'supper'...

a) It refers to a meal that the servants can leave out before retiring, enabling the Master to pick at a collation on his return from an agreeable evening of buggering the underclasses.

b) It is used by arrivistes, terrified that people might ovehear them using the word 'dinner' and mistakenly assume that they're referring to their luncheon like some mucky little member of the lower orders.

Either way it bears very little relevance to contemporary life except as a blatant class signifier.

Will somebody explain to me why anybody without a large household staff should ever use the word 'supper'?

Will somebody explain before I'm forced to apply these electrodes to an innocent, curly-haired, three-year-old moppet?

</RANTMODE>

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I was always resolutely appalled by a 'friend' of mine at university who referred to his evening meal as 'supper', so I sympathise with Tim's apoplexy.

Lunch = lunch

Evening meal = dinner, or tea when I'm visiting my parents oop north. As in, 'what's for tea, dad?' (since my Mum can't cook).

The only circumstance in which I would possibly use 'supper', or wish to hear it used, is in reference to a bite to eat just before bed. This may be another northern thing.

Edited by Rian (log)
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Supper in my vocabulary is something different than tea or dinner.

supper noun 1 an evening meal, especially a light one. 2 a late-night snack that usually consists of a drink, eg tea, cocoa, etc and toast, biscuits, etc that is taken just before bedtime and in addition to the main evening meal. supperless adj.

ETYMOLOGY: 13c: from French soper supper.

I would use the word in the context of the second dictionary definition (from Chambers): it is an additional snack that you have just before bedtime.

The fact that it comes from 13th century French probably indicates you are right though that it comes from the same stable that led us to call our meat mutton, pork and beef (13c French) rather than using the animal names lamb, hog or cow (from Anglo Saxon). (Ok, so it doesn't quite hold for lamb these days and Chambers just says pig comes from 13c pigge which isn't terribly helpful).

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Interesting connotations you note. Very different in my experience on the other side of the Atlantic, however. "Supper" is uncommon in modern metropolitan American usage. The only places you see it today are in "supper clubs" that try to play on their anachronism.

To my farming relatives, all of whom were born between 1899 and 1915, "supper" was a light evening meal consumed after a heavy midday meal that was called "dinner"... Supper was what you had after a hard day's work on the farm. To them, I think, "lunch" was the posh meal. I wonder if that set of terminology was specific to the central New Jersey area, or more widespread amongst agricultural Americans of that era...

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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"Supper" is uncommon in modern metropolitan American usage. 

I was raised in a home where the term "Supper" was used quite frequently. As I grew older, the word made me cringe when I heard it. I don't think I've used the word "Supper" in 25 years. It reminds me of a farm family gathered around picnic table with Ma shoveling out scrambled eggs from a huge cast iron skillet, while Auntie Em rings the dinner bell "Come get yooooor supper!"

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Supper is super ( OF. soper, super).

It is just the last meal of the day.

Dinner is was the most substantial meal of the day.

Once it was:

Breakfast, dinner, supper.

As meal began to be served later (18th century say), lunch was squeezed in. Lunch was as much as you can hold in you hand (see. S. Johnson "Dictionary").

Eventually, lunch became more substantial as dinner was served later. Supper remained the last meal of the day, but in general became much lighter. Variations ocur with location and socio-economic class.

So if your three year olds meal was the last meal of the day and not as substantial as the mid-day meal then it was supper and they have you over a barrel.

The British class identity thing, is something I truely don't pretend to understand (sounds like your family was common though). According to This article in a recent report three out of 10 bank managers say they are working class and 36% of builders regard themselves as middle class.

I don't mind supper, the other night I had jam on toast for the 8:00 pm meal, this was supper, not dinner. Dinner was a fish-supper (that's what you ask for in Scotland if you want fish and chips for tea).

In fact, now that I think about it, this whole anti-supper stance of yours is clearly another example of English cultural imperialism. Bastard.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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I grew up with the three meals of the day being breakfast, lunch and dinner (some time between 7.30-8.30pm) and so these are the terms that I continue to use today. However, one of my aunts had breakfast, dinner, tea (at around 5.30-ish) and then supper (11-ish), the theory being that tea was either too early or too light to see one through to breakfast again. Unless one had had high tea, which seems to be a more substantial and slightly later meal, depending on where you are.

Several of my friends, whilst not quite braying and snorting an entire pint of Pimm's up each nostril, use the term 'supper' to mean an informal evening meal, rather than 'dinner', which in their eyes is a rather more formal occasion. I guess this is the evolution in progress of the word.

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Am in agreement with Adam.

Meals used to be breakfast, dinner, supper as I understand it. If anyone thinks it a worthwhile resource, I recall there being something about this in a Gary Rhodes book once upon a time (New British Classics, I think).

Lunch developed following industrialisation when people had time, luxury and leisure to eat more substantially and earlier during the day, and hey presto, we have lunch, with dinner moving later into the day, and supper becoming increasingly superfluous as a meal.

Although there must be a historian around somewhere that can clarify and put our eating habits into a better context.

Incidentally, in India (or Bengal at least) we refer to lunch as "eating rice" (so someone would ask "bhaath khay-cho?" meaning "have u eaten rice?") and dinner, as I understand it, has no specific name, just "evening meal".

Raj

Edited to add that in Bengal, dinner is served with roti. Puri (or luchi as they are called in Bengal) are also a breakfast/lunch thing, along with paratha's).

Edited by Raj Banerjee (log)
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My family never had 'supper'. We had tea or dinner.

eh... though I live in the commonwealth - I don't understand the tea thing. It makes less sense to me than the supper thing. shouldn't tea be ... well.. a cuppa tea?

To my farming relatives, all of whom were born between 1899 and 1915, "supper" was a light evening meal consumed after a heavy midday meal that was called "dinner"...  Supper was what you had after a hard day's work on the farm.  To them, I think, "lunch" was the posh meal.  I wonder if that set of terminology was specific to the central New Jersey area, or more widespread amongst agricultural Americans of that era...

It wasn't and isn't just a New Jersey thing. My father grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and to them, lunch= dinner and dinner=supper. I went to university in rural Minnesota with many farming kids. They still use the dinner and supper terms.

From some of the explanations upthread, I understand a late evening bite may be referred to as tea or supper? That's what we call a snack around here.

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My family never had 'supper'. We had tea or dinner.

eh... though I live in the commonwealth - I don't understand the tea thing. It makes less sense to me than the supper thing. shouldn't tea be ... well.. a cuppa tea?

No, tea is a meal less substantial than dinner, possibly involving a hot dish, but also sandwiches and cakes and of course tea to drink. Usually served in the afternoon or evening. I think that generally those people who eat their main meal in the middle of the day might have tea in the evening, whereas those who have the main meal in the evening have lunch in the middle of the day. In either case the main meal is dinner whether eaten in the middle of the day or in the evening.

The normal sequence of meals is therefore: breakfast, elevenses, then either lunch followed by dinner or dinner followed by tea and then supper. :raz:

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Once it was:

Breakfast, dinner, supper.

It still is way down here in Devon, Adam. For this North American, when I came over to these shores many many years ago (around 30 to be precise) such finer distinctions did lead to misunderstandings.

A builder was doing some work for me and I had to meet him to give him some money.

"I'll see you at dinner time," he said. So I turned up at 6pm. The site was empty.

"Where were you yesterday?" he asked me accusingly the next day, as if I had stood him up and was trying to get out of paying him.

"I came at dinner time, like you said," I replied in utter innocence.

"What time was that?"

"Oh, around 6-ish."

"Hmmmnph, that's not dinner, that's tea." Turns out, I should have been there at midday, so I missed it by a country mile.

Now, still living in the same small town, which is anything but posh, we do sometimes get asked by friends to "come for supper". Supper means informal, probably no starter, no fancy cutlery, no multiple wine glasses or multiple puddings. Also might just be a foursome, six, a family evening or even, my god, an Odd Number, none of which would be possible with that other curious British institution, The Dinner Party (always seems to be an eight, always seems there must be three puds).

After living here for all these years, do I understand any of this? Not at all.

My daughter just wanders in.

"What's for tea, Dad?" she asks.

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My family spent several summers at a posh and very WASPy summer club (kind of like the one in Dirty Dancing, but not Jewish) on Lake Huron (as guests of friends...there was no way they would ever let an Oriental family actually become members!). Dinners were communal. Mon thru Sat, it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the most formal meal being dinner. On Sunday, though, it was breakfast, dinner, and supper, again with dinner as the most formal and substantial, and supper less substantial and more casual. I just thought it was some wierd WASP quirk.

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Reporting in from the west coast of Canada......

I rarely here the word supper used here.

Cheers,

Stephen Bonner

Vancouver

"who needs a wine list when you can get pissed on dessert" Gordon Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares 2005

MY BLOG

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To my farming relatives, all of whom were born between 1899 and 1915, "supper" was a light evening meal consumed after a heavy midday meal that was called "dinner"...   Supper was what you had after a hard day's work on the farm.  To them, I think, "lunch" was the posh meal.  I wonder if that set of terminology was specific to the central New Jersey area, or more widespread amongst agricultural Americans of that era...

That was true on the farm in Louisiana. My parents were of that generation. The main meal would be mid-day, and it'd be something lighter in the evening.

How about Sunday dinner? That would be at 11:30-noon in our house. Maybe I was sheltered but I never saw a Sunday dinner (or holiday dinner) in the evening until I moved away.

Edited by My Confusing Horoscope (log)

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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Supper for me when I was growing up was always a small snack before bed. Maybe tea & a biscuit, or a small bowl of cereal.

During the week we always had "tea" around 7.30. Usually we went out for "dinner" on Saturdays.

On Sundays it was always "Sunday Dinner" and this was a huge meal served at about 3pm. Anything after that was called supper as after the huge meal , only something light was needed.

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There aren't any left - Jesus had the last one (boom, and furthermore, boom).

Aaaaaythangyeaow!!!!!

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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The only circumstance in which I would possibly use 'supper', or wish to hear it used, is in reference to a bite to eat just before bed. This may be another northern thing.

It must be.

Down here we call that 'a kebab'.

:biggrin:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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In fact, now that I think about it, this whole anti-supper stance of yours is clearly another example of English cultural imperialism. Bastard.

You may have something there.

My mother-in-law (Born Guildford, 60+, Cheltenham Ladies College) uses the word with shrill, tooth-loosening abandon while her husband (Born Edinburgh, grammar school, academic) would never let it pass his lips.

The English upper classes have always been good at defining an impossibly arcane set of rules (see Duncan's posting further down the thread) just so the lower orders and the foreign can't understand (cf. Cricket)

(Re. Common family. As you correctly aver, mine were a semi-criminal bunch of itinerant West Country criminals. I had to marry class :wink: )

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Supper for me when I was growing up was always a small snack before bed.  Maybe tea & a biscuit, or a small bowl of cereal.

Won't wash with a three year old.

Feed 'em anything that close to bedtime and you'll be up a four in the morning, wringing it out of the bedsheets :hmmm:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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As a kid, my mum used to call the evening meal "tea". This greatly confused me. :wacko: Tea was what old ladies drank, not what I should have for "dinner".

I call the evening meal "dinner" in my house.

"Supper" is a light snack, taken about an hour before bed.

"lunch" is eaten at lunch time. "Dinner" is never eaten at lunchtime. (Unless you are talking of "school dinners". :rolleyes: )

Oh, the turmoil. :unsure:

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(Re. Common family. As you correctly aver, mine were a semi-criminal bunch of itinerant West Country criminals. I had to marry class  :wink: )

5 pints of Cider is not supper.

Not even with ice in it?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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