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English Mealtimes Explained (?)



Well, obviously enough, our first meal is breakfast. “Breakfast” is a fairly English word (as English words go) being a combination of two old German words. These words mean (to) break (i.e. interrupt) (the) fast, (for, unless we sneak downstairs for a midnight snack, most of us don’t eat anything the whole night through!).

Then, most of us call our midday meal lunch or luncheon, (a 17th century word of uncertain origin) unless we had woken up too late for breakfast - when we have a late-breakfast-cum-early-luncheon, all of which we condense into that tasty portmanteau word brunch, or, unless again we call it dinner.

Now, dinner is an import from old French “disner” which, in turn, came from late Latin “dis(je)junare” which means “to break one’s fast”.

So, now we know precisely where we are; if we forgo our elevenses (a light snack of tea and cake or bikkies at around eleven o’clock) and not eat anything until our midday meal, which we call dinner, (but we know it’s called second breakfast really), then, after teatime (which, as everyone knows is at four o’clock (or is it five o’clock?)) we have our evening meal later, and call it (another word from the French) supper.

Unless, that is, we have luncheon at lunchtime (midday) and dinner at dinnertime (in the evening).

And we can, of course, and many of those in the north of England do, have dinner at dinnertime (midday) and (high) tea at teatime (about six o’clock).

Moral: If you want to be sure of the timing of your meals, then midnight snacks and elevenses are always safe!