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WTF is Supper?

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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.

Might this be related to M.F.K. Fisher's observation below?

In the great numbers of provincial families that eat their main and soupless meal at noon, the soup is served for supper...
In The Cooking of Provincial France (New York: 1968): 85. Cf. The role of soup in Lulu's Table by Richard Olney.
"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...

This post relates to Fisher's specific reference to "provincial families." Perhaps the most prominent reference to supper in U.S. is in the comic strip, Peanuts. Snoopy celebrates Suppertime with an ecstatic dance.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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  • 2 years later...

This is all very interesting to me, I've been complaining about imprecise meal labels for years. Maybe there's a metric meal nomenclature system, or something in Esperanto?

Here's some more confusion from where I sit:

Canadian English: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Maritime Canadian English: breakfast, dinner, supper

Canadian French: déjeuner, dîner, souper

European French: petit déjeuner, déjeuner, dîner

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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  • 4 weeks later...

I grew up in Australia in the 80s/90s and went to a posh private school (though my family were far from wealthy, we were just immigrants who saved a lot) and this is how the day ran there:

meal one: breakfast (cereal, toast, etc), before 9am

meal two: morning tea (small snack, usually cordial + biscuits, or fruit), around 11am

meal three: lunch, around 1pm

meal four: afternoon tea (small snack), around 3pm

meal five: dinner (meat, veg, etc) around 7pm

meal six: supper (hot chocolate, some other small comforting snack), before bed.

Some people used to call dinner 'tea', but they were weird or went to state schools. We thought that only English people called lunch 'dinner'. Supper could never be anything substantial, or even savoury, really, it was more likely just to be a hot drink, something to put you to sleep.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Being from Lancashire I was brought up with the Breakfast, Dinner, Tea structure no matter what time the meals were served, with a snack before bed in the form of supper.

[incidentally my younger brother liked to have a bowl of cereal for supper when he was little and consequently decided to call supper 'breakfast' which I think is quite funny]

If this helps my Nana who is very proper always told me that traditionally 'tea' was a meal eaten around 4-6 ish; 'dinner' 6-8 ish and supper was the correct name for an evening meal if it was to be taken later than this, e.g. a candlelit supper etc.

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  • 8 months later...

American usage - mainly in the Deep South - when you have your big meal at lunch, the evening meal is supper (ie it was soup because you'd already had a big meal). So on Sundays you have breakfast, dinner, and supper. Other days you have breakfast, lunch and dinner. I didn't know it had a class connotation, in the US it's very regional and basically unused outside the South, as far as I know (though it sounds like it may have hipster usage that I'm, um, un-hip to.)

Edited by far_gone (log)
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If this helps my Nana who is very proper always told me that traditionally 'tea' was a meal eaten around 4-6 ish; 'dinner' 6-8 ish and supper was the correct name for an evening meal if it was to be taken later than this, e.g. a candlelit supper etc.

Back in the day we would as a family have tea - pronounced differently, somehow ? we usually called our evening meal tea, anyway - that was a different way of having that meal. Yes, typically a bit earlier. Not focussed on a main meat-and-two-veg; not in a three-course format, but rather laid out on the table for us mostly to help ourselves. Bread. Butter & jams. Maybe some cold meats or cheese. Cake or cakes. Probably something cooked but simple - bowls of coup, or a piece of fish or a macaroni shared. Tea to drink. It's been a lot of years - maybe the memories will get clearer :rolleyes:

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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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.

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

Hopefully your moppet is now 6 years old ?

Supper is a very nice word, why it bothers you so much, maybe you need to look back at something in your childhood?

Anyway, to us Colonists raised in the N.E., Breakfast is the morning meal, Brunch a mix of Breakfast and Lunch, Lunch is the meal around noon, Dinner is the evening meal and supper refers to the evening meal as well.

To me, a large evening meal or a formal one could be called Dinner and a light meal or informal one called supper. The variations are few throughout the USA, but some folks have dinner in the late afternoon, this is usually on a Sunday. The rest of the week most folks are at work at 2-4 PM and therefore have to wait till the evening to have their SUPPER.

Edited by Aloha Steve (log)

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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Chiming in from Western Canada. Growing up, raised by parents who grew up on farms during the depression (if that has any bearing on things), our meals were breakfast, lunch, and supper (the main meal of the day). Many of my friends referred to the evening meal as dinner, however, so I always thought the terms were interchangeable. After I grew up and moved out, I started referring to it as dinner as well because that's what everyone else was calling it. We would go out for dinner, not supper. A few years ago I was speaking with my mother and mentioned what I'd had for "dinner" the night before and she promptly corrected me that it should be called "supper". She actually made a bit of a fuss about it but I can't remember her reasoning.

I still don't see what the big deal is. I couldn't care less whether it's called supper or dinner. It's just the evening meal.

Edited by emmalish (log)

I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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Anything eaten after dinner..6pm ish or dessert is called

"are you eating Again?"

breakfast lunch dinner in Northern New Jersey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers


Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

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I agree with Emmalish...that's exactly how it was at our house. Raised on the farm by mennonite depression survivors, Supper it was, and supper it remains, but I always thought it was an interchangeable term, and indeed, in this area, it seems to be. Of course since I went and married a foreigner, we call it tea at our house, but he's working class British, so that's the way it is. My sister married an Eton man, and over at her house, it's dinner. Tea is what the nanny feeds the children in the nursery while you are getting quietly drunk on sherry in the drawing room.

and really, who cares what it's called, as long as the food is good.

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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When I was young, and that's been a while, farm folk throughout the US (not just the south) had their big meal, i.e., "dinner," at midday. The men had gotten up early, eaten breakfast, and worked in the fields all morning. At noontime, they were really hungry and they wanted a big, substantial, filling meal. After which, they took a very short rest, and then headed back out to the tractor, or barn, or cow pasture.

Supper was the lighter meal they ate before bedtime.

Nothing posh about that lifestyle.

That's changed as fewer folks put in that kind of heavy, manual labor. Nobody has the time or mood or stomach for a huge meal before going back to work in the cubicle.

But remnants of that nomenclature cling, most notably when people refer to holiday meals: Thanksgiving Dinner, Easter Dinner, etc. Large meals generally served in the middle of the day.


Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm in the UK, and in my family we use these words for meals:

Breakfast - obvious

Dinner - the main meal of the day, whether midday or evening

Lunch - the midday meal if it is not the main meal of the day

Tea - A light snacky meal in the afternoon OR the kids last meal of the day (since kids generally eat earlier and lighter) OR an early, light evening meal of foods such as sandwhiches and other cold things.

Supper - a light snack before bed or a light meal late in the evening

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Interesting thread, even if the body of it is pretty old. I grew up in Australia too and my recollections agree with gingerbeers... we didn't eat morning or afternoon tea except for special occasions - if you invited guests to drop by in the afternoon you served them afternoon tea. But my grandparents sat down twice a day for their cup of tea (real tea made in a teapot, none of those teabags for them!) and a single biscuit or little square of cake.

Breakfast - morning meal

Morning tea - 10.30 or so.

Lunch - your middle of the day meal no matter how heavy or light it is. If you go out at lunchtime you're still having lunch!

Afternoon tea - 3-4pm snack (after-school snack for kids...)

Dinner - evening meal, usually served around 6pm though in some households it was as early as 5.

Supper - late night snack. Not an everyday occurance, just for special occasions ie. if you went out in the evening, afterwards you might have supper.

Snack - any time of the day or night.

Nowadays our meals don't get nomenclature... DH works on a flexible schedule and I cook a main meal to be eaten when he gets home - if he's too late to have 'lunch' I just serve our 'dinner' at 4! Then we have a snack later on.

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