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Good grief

What meal should be called “dinner” is a British debate as old as time and one that staunchly divides the nation.

But now, the argument may have been settled once and for all by one of the greatest Englishmen of all time: William Shakespeare.

The 17th-century bard and linguistic renegade used “dinner” when talking about the middle-of-the-day meal, agreeing with much of the North of England.

Yes, we knew that. The question becomes what did later people call it all?

What did the Victorians say?

Shakespeare puts an end to ‘dinner or supper’ debate
The name for the evening meal has long divided the nation but it would appear that the bard agreed with north England

And that’s the headline, which is even worse. Because supper is an entirely different meal anyway. That’s the light snack before bed, not the blowout three plater which could be dinner or lunch or tea.


27 thoughts on “Good grief”

  1. Did we ever find out what David Cameron’s “country supper” consisted of? We were recently invited to a wealthy titled (Baronet) neighbour’s “kitchen supper”. My daughter said that our level was probably “utility room supper”.

  2. Andrew: It were me too. However our granddaughter is being taught breakfast, lunch, dinner after her father’s usage so we do try to remember!

  3. I tend to differentiate between week days and weekends.
    Week days it’s lunch in the afternoon, dinner in the evening.
    Weekends it’s dinner around midday, tea in the evenings.

  4. A tad off topic but since it’s the same paper it was kind enough to inform me, in article solely dedicated to doing so, that the Spanish dine late. Commonly at 10PM. News to me, because it’s impossible to get a table after 10 anywhere I’ve lived. Or if you do, they’re hustling you to get finished before 11 so they can close. Aranda de Duero, most of them shut at 7:30 & it was down to take-away kebabs. (On the other hand the lechera (suckling pig) is to die for. So whenever they’ll condescend to serve it.) And the actual Spanish don’t eat at night anyway. Widely believed late eating leads to bad sleeping. The main meal’s around 2PM. Hence the 3 hour lunch breaks.
    I can only presume the writer’s experience of the country only extends to Marbella – second homes for Europe’s third rate criminals & virtually a foreign enclave. She certainly looked the type. I do find the Torygraph emulates the Graun in many regards. Written as it is, from another planet in possibly another universe.

  5. BiS: I think it’s just another example of the rule that whenever you read anything in the paper on which you have a bit of knowledge or expertise, it’s always wrong.

  6. When I was young Dinner was the name of the main meal of the day; when that was eaten varied: not simply between north and south but also between classes (and Sunday dinner was in the middle of the day even for many middle-class households who ate Dinner in the evening on weekdays).
    The UKIPgraph journalist seems to be regrettably ignorant that the difference between north and south was *not* about the name of the meal but which of the three daily meals was the major one.

  7. @BiS

    The Spanish restaurant culture must have changed. When I was working in Madrid (late 80s), restaurants opened for the evening at 9pm, but there were only tourists in there before 10. And sitting down close to midnight wasn’t unknown.

  8. Madrid maybe, Chris. Also Barca. They get a sufficient number of a certain sort of tourist & resident. I’m basically Londoner/Parisian but could thrive in NYC. Paris we regularly didn’t go out for the evening until midnight with a meal & a club in front of us. The rest of France is more like Spain. Last area in lived in London was Bayswater. Similar sort of culture. Croydon or Bradford are on a different planet.
    I think it’s just another example of the rule that whenever you read anything in the paper on which you have a bit of knowledge or expertise, it’s always wrong.
    Almost everything there will make it harder to sell your house. Our business did ( still does) pre-sale refurbs. A sizeable proportion of what we did. We made a lot of money at it. All from recommendations. We’re experts
    The trick to selling anywhere is to make it as anodyne as possible. A blank canvas potential buyers can paint their imaginations on. Anything that is a statement of you will deter buyers. Psychologically, it says this is your house not theirs. So definitely not framed photos of your grand-daughter in her bridesmaid’s dress, however much you’re proud of her. Get everything out of the house you can. Put it in storage if you have to. ( The couple of grand charges you can deduct for the 50K increase in the selling price. The less clutter the better. Makes the rooms look bigger. We used to paint all woodwork eggshell white. That’s flat white never brilliant white (which is a shade of blue). Same with the walls & ceilings. Which were meticulously prepped ( I used women decorators if I could find them- Far greater attention to detail than blokes ) Flat white again but using oil based or at a pinch acrylic. Produces a totally texture-less finish. And flat white will pick up any reflected colour from objects in the room. Self harmonising. Dressing? If a picture was needed, an abstract hired in the frame. Just for the colour. Maybe two or three flowers in a nice vase. Realistic fakes are the best. We’d even hire furniture. White leather sofa the correct proportions for the room. It’s not for sitting on.
    The photo they’ve topped the article with is horrific. It screams at you “Me! Me! Me!)

  9. The evening main meal is supper if you’re posh, dinner if you’re not, or “wor tea” if you’re definitely not.


  10. @ Peter McFarlane
    “High Tea” just means that part of it is cooked, it was definitely late afternoon not evening.

  11. Blimey Vienna in the 90s, the streets were empty at 9pm. Better now of course, but takeaways do not cater for drunks and apart from MacD are rarely open past 9.30.

    Anyway Breakfast, dinner and tea when I were a lad and we lived in Saff Lunnon. Niw I am middle class, I have lunch instead.

    In any case isn’t luncheon of more recent invention ? ie post Bill Waggerdagger .

  12. Breakfast, luncheon, tea, dinner, supper. What you chaps do the other side of the green baize door is your affair.

    BiS. Spent a lot of my life in Madrid. If I’d have tried to eat before 9pm, I’d have been doing it on my own. Agreed that in the sticks they are the same as the rest of Europe. Still at least none have the horrible USian habit of eating the last meal at 5:30-6pm.

  13. When I was a lad the midday meal was lunch, served from 12PM – 1PM, either in the works canteen or alternately sandwiches and a flask of coffee when down the mine or some other inaccessible locale.

    As for dinner, that was an evening meal of some substance (compared to the midday repast) and generally served between 5PM and 7PM, mostly depending upon what time father returned from work (later if there were trouble at t’mill, obviously).

    The tea lady would appear at 10:30 and 15:00 on the dot with hot tea and coffee for those that desired either and maybe a biscuit. She did a side line in cellophane wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches for those still feeling a bit peckish.

    The Sunday Meal had neither lunch nor dinner as an appellation, being simply referred to as “The Sunday Roast” and the roast part was compulsory usually accompanied by two veg (peas / carrots), potatoes and gravy.

    It’s preparation commenced upon return from Church and general sit-down was 2PM except on Christmas Day when it was 3:15PM after the Queens speech.

    Variations were allowed due to high holidays, illness and power strikes.

  14. In any case isn’t luncheon of more recent invention ? ie post Bill Waggerdagger .</b?
    Then, the midday meal would have been around 10AM. By our standards a late breakfast. You operate to a different clock when artificial light is poor & expensive.

  15. True. Electric lights probably had a lot to do with shifting the main meal of the day from afternoon to evening.

  16. @ John Galt
    Sunday Dinner after 11 am Service and Sunday School = 1 pm+, not 2 pm (unless your mother was a Sunday School teacher)

  17. Kind of ignores that every part of the UK is, historically, more a collection of teeny little nations with their own cultures and languages. If you can go 10 miles without encountering two mutually incomprehensible changes in dialect then its no surprise that not the whole place uses the same name for dinner.

    Also, its ‘dinner’. ‘Supper’ is a light meal much later in the evening. And ‘lunch’ is the midday meal;)

  18. @ Agammamon
    Did you do any elementary French at school? The word Dinner derives from “diner”, the Norman-French word for the main evening meal.
    Dinner is in much more common use in the south of England and among the middle classes.
    BUT much of the difference is *nothing* to do with names but is due to the different eating practices.

  19. “The word Dinner derives from “diner”, the Norman-French** word for the main evening meal.”
    Is there actually any evidence for that or are we just projecting our current preferences?
    Literature of the time would suggest for common people the midday (our 10Am) was the main meal of the day. The multicourse* banquets of the wealthy, afternoon affairs. We are wedded to times whereas they may have differentiated by the nature of the meal.

    * Meat ‘n two veg on a plate is almost entirely a modern concept. And not universal even for Europe today. People ate much more like Chinese, Indians or the Greek meze. Separate things served & eaten individually. And not necessarily in any particular order. One chose what one wanted from what was presented. **One can get some idea from traditional French table habits still much practised today. You get the one plate & set of cutlery for the entire meal. The plate is deep dished with a pronounced rim around the underneath where it rests on the table. Soups & other savoury courses are served in the dish. The plate is turned over & deserts are eaten from the back. Signifying finishing a course is not signalled by placing the cutlery together across the plate but on the table at either side. And trad French, like trad English cuisine uses a great many fruit/meat combinations. So there isn’t such a distinction between savoury & sweet as we’re used to.

  20. Sunday Dinner after 11 am Service and Sunday School = 1 pm+, not 2 pm (unless your mother was a Sunday School teacher)

    You must have had one of those fancy modern vicars, not the old drunken reprobate that was too stupid for the Army and too ethical for Parliament. Whose sole purpose in life was to inflict his captive audience with the most inane and unintelligible rubbish from the good book, sew it through some inexplicable, unlikely or downright fanciful modern parable until his flock was dazed, confused and considering conversion to Pastafarianism.

    It was with some relief that he has a stroke and was sent wereever old vicars go to languish (Brighton by some measure it seems) before being returned to sender.

    As I’d left home by then, I missed his swan song and demise.

  21. @ bloke in Spain
    Inland Andalucia (near Antequera) restaurant kitchens only open at 8pm and our Spanish friends only consider meeting to dine at 9pm and eating at 10pm. Plays havoc with an english digestion.
    Yes lunch at the week-end is at 2pm often finishing around 6 pm.

    Trying to sell the place now so shall strip it out a bit more – though as a summer rental we keep it impersonal

  22. @ bis
    Wiki says “dinner” is derived from “old French” – I am, admittedly, projecting its introduction through the Normans rather than the Huguenots

  23. @ John Galt
    I certainly should not describe him as “fancy” and hardly as “modern”: I never asked him his age but I assumed that he was born shortly before WW1. His sermons on the one Sunday in the month when children stayed in church to hear them were comprehensible to us (obviously I don’t know what the ones addressed to adult-only congregations were like). He was one of those who regarded his “cure” (duty of care) to extend not only to his congregation but also to all the non-church-goers in his parish.

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