Meals

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The names used for different meals vary very much in different parts of the English-speaking world, and between different classes. These words can become in-group markers in many parts of Britain, and help snobbery to flourish.

These variations can cause embarrassment and difficulty to students from other countries - and even native-born British students moving to a different part of the country - the following may be helpful:

  • Breakfast - in all contexts, the first meal of the day.
  • Dinner - generally, the main meal of the day
    • In many working-class households, in schools and in the other ranks of the British armed forces, dinner is usually eaten in the middle of the day.
    • In more formal circles - the aristocracy, Oxbridge colleges, the officers of the armed forces and the great institutions of state, dinner is eaten in the evening. In the more formal of these, the eaters dress for dinner, men in dinner jackets and women in more loosely defined 'evening dress'.
  • Lunch (sometimes called luncheon, an older word - though by the twenty-first century, little used), for those who eat dinner ("dine") in the evening, is the meal eaten in the middle of the day, usually around 1:00 p.m..
  • Tea is perhaps one of the greatest pitfalls. Two types are sometimes distinguished:
    • afternoon tea, a light refreshment taken with cups of tea in the middle of the afternoon - around 4:00.
    • high tea (to many simply tea) is a main meal eaten in the evening (around 6:00 p.m.) by those who eat dinner - if at all - in the middle of the day.
  • Supper is a word with different meanings among different social groups.
    • It may be another name used for a main meal eaten in the evening (around 6:00 p.m.) by those who eat dinner - if at all - in the middle of the day
    • For those who dine in the evening, supper may be
      • a snack, or light meal, consumed before going to bed; or
      • a social meal eaten after such performances as concerts or plays.
    • For supper in a religious context see The Lord's Supper and The Last Supper.
Raymond Briggs wrote a clear and elegant statement of his views on the vexed question of the names used for different meals, "We do make a meal of it", in The Oldie of October 2017, p. 13.