Home / Brunch / Why do Brits call lunch dinner?

Why do Brits call lunch dinner?

Why do Brits call lunch dinner – Hey there! Do you ever find yourself confused when a British colleague or friend mentions having “dinner” in the middle of the day? As an American, I certainly did when I first moved across the pond. It turns out that in British culture, “dinner” often refers to the midday meal, while “supper” is reserved for the evening meal. Why is this the case? Let’s dive into the history and cultural influences behind this linguistic difference.

Section 1: Historical Roots of the Term ‘Dinner’ in Britain

Origins of the Term ‘Dinner’

The British have been using the term ‘dinner’ to refer to their midday meal for centuries. The word itself has a long and fascinating history. The term ‘dinner’ likely comes from the Latin word ‘dinnerware’, which means ‘to break the fast’. During the Middle Ages, people would abstain from eating anything before going to church in the morning. Following church, they would have a midday meal, which became known as ‘dinner’.

Industrial Revolution Impact

During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, the working day became longer and more structured. With people clocking in at factories and other workplaces, they would take a break in the middle of the day, which was referred to as ‘dinner time’. It’s likely that this tradition spread to schools and other institutions, which further entrenched the use of ‘dinner’ for the midday meal.

Class Distinctions

However, the use of ‘dinner’ for the midday meal was not universal, and its use was often determined by social class. The wealthier upper classes would often have a large midday meal – their ‘dinner’ – and a smaller evening meal called ‘supper’. Conversely, the working classes would have a smaller midday meal and a larger evening meal, which was also called ‘dinner’.

North-South Divide

The use of ‘dinner’ for the midday meal also depends on regional differences. In the north of England, the midday meal is typically called ‘dinner’, while in the south, it’s referred to as ‘lunch’. The reasons for this are unclear, but it’s believed to be due to the different cultural and historical influences in these regions.

Migration Patterns

As Britain experienced waves of migration from other cultures, particularly from Europe, this had an impact on the language used to describe mealtimes. In some European cultures, the midday meal is known as ‘lunch’, and this influence is evident in some areas of the country.

Rural Areas

In rural areas, the language used to describe mealtimes is often influenced by the seasonality of work. For example, during the harvest season, the midday meal may be called ‘harvest lunch’, while during the winter months, it may be referred to as ‘dinner’.

Institutional Language

In institutions, the language used to describe mealtimes is often codified and standardized. This is particularly true in schools, where mealtimes are referred to as ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’, and ‘tea’. In some workplaces, particularly the armed forces, mealtimes are also codified and referred to using specific language.

Modern-Day Usage

Today, the use of ‘dinner’ to describe the midday meal is becoming less common, particularly among younger generations. The term ‘lunch’ is now the preferred word for the midday meal, even in areas where ‘dinner’ is historically used.

Cultural Significance

Language is often a marker of cultural identity, and the use of ‘dinner’ to describe the midday meal is a cultural marker for many Britons. While the term is falling out of use, it remains an important part of British language and tradition.


In conclusion, the use of ‘dinner’ to describe the midday meal in Britain has a rich and varied history. Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and its use has been influenced by social class, regional differences, migration patterns, and institutional language. While the term is falling out of use, it remains an important part of British cultural identity and tradition.

Section Two: Historical and Cultural Influences on British Meal Naming

1. Early Meal Times

Throughout history, different cultures have had varying mealtimes. In the United Kingdom, the upper classes traditionally ate dinner as their main meal at midday, while the working classes’ main meal was in the evening. As a result, dinner became associated with the evening meal for the working classes, while lunch remained the midday meal.

2. The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution played a significant role in shaping meal naming conventions in Britain. With the rise of factory work, people had a shorter lunch break, and the midday meal became lighter and quicker. This meal was often called “lunch” or “snack” rather than “dinner” to indicate its smaller size and informality.

3. Social Class Signifiers

Throughout history, mealtimes and what people ate have been used to signify social class. In Britain, dinner was associated with the upper classes, while lunch was associated with the working classes. As a result, people who wanted to appear more affluent would call their midday meal “dinner” as an affectation.

4. Regional Differences

There are also regional differences in meal naming conventions across the UK. In some areas, dinner is still used as the midday meal, while in others, the evening meal is known as supper. These variations are the result of cultural and historical differences across the country.

5. Influence of Schools

Schools have also played a role in naming conventions for meals in the UK. In many schools, the midday meal is called “dinner” regardless of the time it is served. Over time, this has influenced the broader culture, and some people continue to call their midday meal “dinner” as a result of this educational influence.

6. The Role of Television and Media

Television and other forms of media have played a significant role in shaping language and culture across the globe. In the UK, television programs featuring characters referring to their midday meal as “dinner” have contributed to the continued use of this term, particularly among younger generations.

7. Impact of Multiculturalism

Britain is a culturally diverse society, with a wide range of food traditions and naming conventions. In some cultures, the midday meal is referred to as “dinner,” while in others, it is called “lunch.” This multicultural influence has led to further variation in meal naming across the country.

8. Changing Eating Habits

Changing eating habits, such as the rise of snacking and the decline of traditional mealtimes, have also affected meal naming conventions in the UK. People may eat multiple smaller meals throughout the day rather than one large “dinner” or “lunch,” further blurring the lines between these mealtimes.

9. Gender and Meal Naming

Gender has also played a role in meal naming conventions in the UK. Historically, women were responsible for preparing meals, and the terminology used for mealtimes reflected this. For example, the midday meal was often called “dinner” because it was the largest and most substantial meal of the day. However, as gender roles have shifted, meal naming conventions have become more egalitarian.

10. The Future of Meal Naming

As language and culture continue to evolve, it’s likely that meal naming conventions will continue to shift. With changing eating habits, multicultural influences, and the impact of media, terms like “dinner” and “lunch” may eventually become obsolete as new names emerge to describe the meals of the future.

How has the use of the terms changed over time?

Over time, the use of the terms “lunch” and “dinner” has evolved, leading to the confusion surrounding their use in modern-day Britain. The following are some of the significant changes that have occurred:

The Industrial Revolution:

During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers were entitled to a midday meal that was referred to as “dinner.” The meal was often the main meal of the day and would last for up to an hour. Those who did not work in factories but could afford to take the meal outside their homes also referred to it as “dinner.”

However, for those who could not afford to take the meal outside their homes, they would refer to the midday meal as “lunch.”

The Upper-Class Influence:

In the late 1800s, the upper class of Britain began to take the midday meal as an opportunity to showcase and enjoy their wealth and status. They started eating the midday meal in the late afternoon, which they referred to as “luncheon.”

As the middle and lower classes began to imitate the habits of the upper class, the term “luncheon” gained popularity in Britain’s elite circles. The term “dinner” lost its exclusivity, and it was gradually adapted to the evening meal.

The World War Influence:

The First and Second World Wars also played a crucial role in shaping the use of the terms “lunch” and “dinner” in Britain. During the Second World War, rationing was introduced, which limited the availability of food. As a result, people began to merge their midday and evening meals to get the most out of their rationed meals.

The merge of the two meals led to the popularization of the term “dinner” as the midday meal to distinguish it from the evening meal. Yet, many people still referred to the midday meal as “lunch.”

The Modern-day:

Today, the use of the terms “dinner” and “lunch” in the UK is still influenced by historical factors. People’s social and economic status, geographical location, and even their age can influence their use of the terms.

For example, people living in Scotland or Northern Ireland are more likely to refer to the midday meal as “lunch” than those living in England. Younger generations are also more likely to use the term “lunch” than the older generation, who tend to use “dinner.”


Lunch Dinner
Historically used by the poor who could not afford to eat outside their homes Originally used to refer to the main meal of the day
Still used by many people today to refer to midday meal Gradually adapted to the evening meal
Popularized as midday meal during World War II
Still in use today, but the use is influenced by several factors

Therefore, the confusion surrounding the use of “lunch” and “dinner” in the UK can be traced back to historical factors, which have shaped the use of these terms over time. In modern-day Britain, the use of the terms continues to evolve, leading to a variety of uses that are influenced by several factors.

Learn more about the history behind the “lunch/dinner” confusion with BBC Future’s explanation on the topic.

Thanks for Reading

So there you have it, the reason why Brits call lunch “dinner”. It may seem confusing at first, but it just goes to show the unique quirks of British culture. If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out our other pieces exploring the fascinating traditions of different cultures. Thanks for reading, and come back soon for more insights into the world we live in. Cheers!

Read Also:

What is brunch in buffet meaning?

Is brunch later than lunch?

Video Suggestions Around: Why do Brits call lunch dinner?


Leave a Comment