If you’ve spent time in the UK, you might have noticed something peculiar – the British use the word “dinner” to refer to lunch. It might sound strange, but this has been a long-standing tradition in the UK and is deeply ingrained in their culture. For outsiders, it can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re used to calling your mid-day meal “lunch.” So, what’s the reason behind this seemingly odd habit? Let’s find out.
The History Behind the British Lunch/Dinner Dichotomy
The British love to break bread and have a piping hot cup of tea. But while they have their dinner at night, what they call “lunch” during the day is a whole different story. Did you ever wonder why the British call their midday meal “dinner” instead of lunch? Here is a brief history behind the fact.
The Classic English Meal Schedule
When the Industrial Revolution occurred in the 18th century, life as the British knew it turned on its head. Suddenly, the traditional meal timetable of breakfast, dinner, and supper became misaligned. As the working class moved into urban areas to work in factories, they needed a meal that was quick and easy to prepare, which they started having towards the middle of the day.
To fit their new lifestyle, the mealtime boundaries for the working-class changed from the standard schedule where breakfast was taken in the early morning, dinner at noon, and supper in the evening.
The After Six Dinner Tradition
With the working-class eating lunch because of their new lifestyle, people with larger houses and wealthier families could afford a slightly different meal plan. They started having their midday meal around 1 pm and called it “luncheon.”
On the other hand, people had their hot sit-down meal as the end of the day approaches, around 6 pm, which became known as “dinner.” It was common for dinner to be a formal affair, with the family all gathered around to eat. Members of the upper class would often dress up, and dinner was nostalgic of royalty attitudes.
The Snacking Culture of the Mid-century
The custom of eating three heavy, home-cooked meals face is not the traditional way in the UK today. With time and changing socio-economic factors, the country has become more diverse.
This has given rise to both the snacking culture and the increasing frequency of social get-togethers and informal dining. In such cases, to fill up the hunger gap between lunch and dinner, people often opt for a light meal, which is called supper.
The Notions of the Evening Meal
The most significant difference between “dinner” and “supper” can be blurry. However, in most British households, supper is a light, easily-made meal had later in the evening than dinner.
For some families, supper can be an additional meal after dinner to keep hunger at bay. For others, supper may mean having dessert while exchanging pleasantries with the family before bed.
Dinner vs. Supper
Although dinner and supper have been and are currently used interchangeably, today, supper has a more informal association than dinner. Most people would have dinner and supper on the same day, where dinner is the more considerable, formal affair of the two.
The North-South Divide
The concept of a midday meal being either lunch or dinner varies across the UK, with there being more than one way to refer to things according to what location you come from. In the North, dinner is the midday meal, and supper is what people eat in the evening. In contrast, in the southern parts, people say lunch is the midday meal, and dinner denotes the massive sit-down meal in the evening.
In conclusion, the British lunch/dinner divide is an age-old custom formed by various societal factors, including class distinction and the rise of a compact lunchtime option for the working class. The diversity and the addition of other cultures to the UK have further impacted the language and mealtime conventions in recent years. Today, going out for lunch or dinner no longer has to mean anything more than two friends hanging out and catching up over a warm meal.
The Historical Development of British Eating Habits
The second section of this article explores the historical development of British eating habits and how it has affected the way they refer to their meals. Understanding the history and culture provides an insight into the origin of the peculiar British mealtime terms.
How The Custom of Having Three Meals A Day Started
The custom of having three meals a day began in Britain during the 19th century. Before then, people had two main meals a day namely breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was usually a light meal, while dinner was a more elaborate meal eaten around midday. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution when working hours changed from sunrise to sunset that the third meal was introduced. Workers found it difficult to sustain energy for an entire day, making dinner too far away from their preferred time of the day. So instead of having a light supper, workers had an additional meal in between breakfast and dinner known as lunch.
The Difference Between The Working Class And The Upper Class
The difference between the working class and the upper class played a significant role in shaping British meal terms. The upper classes typically had more substantial means and were able to afford three full meals a day. Dinner was also the main meal of the day, and it was quite elaborate, consisting of several courses. The working class, on the other hand, couldn’t afford the extravagance of the upper class and would eat a lighter lunch than dinner.
The Role of Marriage and the Church on Mealtime
Marriage and the church played significant roles in the development of British mealtime habits. Weddings were usually held in the late morning, and after the ceremony, the guests would be served with a meal. This meal would be called a wedding breakfast, and it was usually a large feast served around midday. The church also had a say in meal times as it demanded that the first meal of the day be had after morning service. As a result, the later meal, which used to be dinner, became known as supper. However, the term supper has almost fallen out of use.
The Victorian Grandeur
The era of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) brought about significant changes in British mealtime terms, with dinner being pushed later in the day into evening time. Dinner became a more formal occasion in Victorian times, indicating one’s wealth and social status. Menus were grand, and food was displayed in a manner that was meant to impress guests. Lunch was also served but was considered only for the elite.
How The Two World Wars Affected British Mealtime Habits
The two world wars had a significant impact on British mealtime habits. Rationing during the war meant that people had to make do with less, and fancier meals were replaced with a simpler diet. The working class would eat pie and mash or bread and drippings for lunch, and dinner would consist of something like potatoes with vegetables or soup. These simple meals became known as “meat and two veg.” After the Second World War, more exotic foods began to appear in Britain, and the term supper fell out of use.
The Modern Era
Today’s modern era has seen a growth in the types of cuisine available in Britain, with more exotic foods being introduced from all over the world. The development of technology also had an impact, with ready-made meals becoming increasingly popular. It has become common for people to have many variations of food and to eat at any time of day without a strict and fixed mealtime schedule. While the terms lunch and dinner have become interchangeable and confused over time, they still serve as a way of distinguishing between the lighter meal and the full meal of the day.
Historical background of the British naming conventions for meals
The British naming convention for meals such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner have been around for centuries. The names were not arbitrary but were influenced by historical factors and cultural traditions. Here are some of the reasons and explanations behind the differences between British and American naming conventions for meals.
The Origin of the Word “Dinner”
The word ‘dinner’ comes from the Old French word ‘disner,’ which means “to dine.” It was traditionally the main meal of the day, eaten around midday or early afternoon. With the advent of factory work during the Industrial Revolution, many people started eating their main meal in the late afternoon or early evening, which coincided with the time when most workers finished their daily shifts. This meal became known as ‘dinner’.
Another theory proposes that the word ‘dinner’ itself evolved from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘dunor,’ which means “a midday meal eaten while the sun is highest in the sky”.
The Origin of the Word “Lunch”
The word ‘lunch’ is believed to have come from the Spanish word ‘lonja,’ which means “a slice” or “a portion of food.” This word likely made its way into the English language during the 17th century, when trade between Great Britain and Spain was common. Over time, the word ‘lonja’ was Anglicized to ‘lunch’.
The concept of eating a midday meal is not unique to the English language. In many European countries, the midday meal is the most substantial meal of the day and is called ‘lunch.’ In America, the word ‘lunch’ was used as a term for a light meal eaten between breakfast and dinner.
The Origin of the Word “Tea”
‘Tea’ is a uniquely British word for an afternoon or early evening meal, typically consisting of tea, sandwiches, and cakes. The tradition of serving tea or a light meal in the afternoon likely originated in the 19th century and was popularized by the upper classes. Initially, this meal was called ‘low tea’ because it was served on low tables, but over time, the name was shortened to simply ‘tea.’
Around the turn of the 20th century, it became common for many people to have their main meal in the evening instead of at midday. This meal came to be known as ‘high tea’ because it was traditionally eaten at a table with chairs rather than on low tables.
The Differences in Timing and Portion Sizes
The timing and portion sizes of meals also vary between British and American cultures. As mentioned earlier, the main meal in Britain is often eaten in the evening, while in America, it is usually eaten at midday. This has led to differences in portion sizes, with British evening meals being generally larger than midday American meals. In addition, American breakfasts tend to be bigger and more substantial than their British counterparts, which are often lighter and simpler.
Overall, the naming conventions for meals in British culture have evolved from historical and cultural traditions. While the distinctions between breakfast, lunch, and dinner may seem arbitrary to outsiders, they are an essential part of British daily life and families’ daily routines.
|Meal||Timing of meal||Typical portion size|
|Breakfast||Early morning||Large and substantial|
|Lunch||Midday||Small to medium-sized|
|Dinner||Evening||Large and substantial|
Here are some relevant links for “Why do British call lunch dinner?”:
1. Learn about the specifics of British meal terms in this informative article. It explains why “dinner” in Britain can refer to both lunch and dinner, depending on the region.
2. See a breakdown of British meal terms and the historical reasons behind them in this fascinating article. It explains how societal changes led to the creation of the different meal terms used in Britain today.
3. Gain insight into the cultural influences on British meal terminology in this thought-provoking article. It explores how regional and social factors have shaped the language used to describe meals in the UK.
Say Goodbye to the Lunch-Dinner Confusion in Style!
Thanks for reading this article on why the British call lunch dinner. We’ve had fun sharing some interesting facts about British colloquialisms and how they differ from American English. Have you ever heard of other words’ meanings shifting in different countries? Let us know in the comments below! Don’t forget to visit our website for more exciting content, and we hope to see you soon. Happy eating, or should we say dinner-time? Cheers!
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