In writing historical fiction, one of the rather confusing issues I struggle with is what to call the midday and evening meals.
As a frame of reference, my family members have always had four kinds of meals: breakfast (in the morning); lunch (around noon); dinner or supper interchangeably (6:00 or 7:00 p.m.); and snacks (midmorning or midafternoon).
But I know these terms are not the same for everyone today, let along throughout history.
The definition of breakfast in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is straightforward and not disputed (that I’m aware of):
1.1 That with which a person breaks his fast in the morning; the first meal of the day.
The confusion stems from terms for dinner and supper. According to the OED, dinner is defined as:
1. a.1.a The chief meal of the day, eaten originally, and still by the majority of people, about the middle of the day (cf. Ger. Mittagsessen), but now, by the professional and fashionable classes, usually in the evening; particularly, a formally arranged meal of various courses; a repast given publicly in honour of some one, or to celebrate some event.
For example, my research shows that George and Martha Washington ate dinner at or about 3 p.m. with supper in the evening, around 7:00 p.m.
So, the afternoon meal in my 1821 Fury Falls Inn series of stories should be called dinner.
Then what is supper? Given that my family has used both dinner and supper to refer to our evening meal? Back to the OED I went. Supper is defined in the OED as:
1. a.1.a The last meal of the day; (contextually) the hour at which this is taken, supper-time; also, such a meal made the occasion of a social or festive gathering. Often without article, demonstrative, possessive, or the like, esp. when governed by a prep. (to have supper; at supper, to supper, for supper, after supper).
Formerly, the last of the three meals of the day (breakfast, dinner, and supper); now applied to the last substantial meal of the day when dinner is taken in the middle of the day, or to a late meal following an early evening dinner. Supper is usually a less formal meal than late dinner.
That clarifies these terms, but what about the midday meal of lunch? When did that become the accepted term instead of dinner?
The OED says:
[Perh. evolved from lump n.1, on the analogy of the apparent relation between hump and hunch, bump and bunch. Cf. ‘Lounge, a large lump, as of bread or cheese’ (Brockett N. Country Words, ed. 2, 1829).
It is curious that the word first appears as a rendering of the (at that time) like-sounding Sp. lonja slice of ham. luncheon, commonly believed to be a derivative of lunch, occurs in our quots. 11 years earlier, with its present spelling. In sense 2 lunch was an abbreviation of luncheon, first appearing about 1829, when it was regarded either as a vulgarism or as a fashionable affectation.]
†1.1 A piece, a thick piece; a hunch or hunk. Obs.
2. a.2.a A synonym of luncheon n. 2. (Now the usual word exc. in specially formal use, though formerly objected to as vulgar.) Also, a light meal at any time of the day.
The term lunch didn’t become accepted until after 1829, 8 years after the time period of my series. Therefore, I shouldn’t refer to the midday meal using that term. So when you read my series, keep these facts in mind. There are three meals served at the Fury Falls Inn: breakfast, dinner, and supper.
One other note. Snacks have been around a long time. The OED cites it used in 1685 to mean “A mere taste, a small quantity, of liquor” but in 1757 it’s used in the sense of “A mere bite or morsel of food, as contrasted with a regular meal; a light or incidental repast.” So if you find Cassie or Flint snacking from time to time, it’s fine. I checked.
Speaking of lunch, it’s about that time as I finish writing this post. Before you go, though, check out the cover (below) of the first book in the six-book Fury Falls Inn series, The Haunting of the Fury Falls Inn, coming October 2019. I love this cover so much; almost as much as the story!
Thanks for stopping by! Cheers!
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Innkeeper’s daughter Cassie Fairhope longs for only one thing: to escape her mother’s tyranny. But in northern Alabama in 1821 marriage is her only escape. Even so, she has a plan: Seduce the young man acting as innkeeper while her father is away and marry him. He’s handsome and available. Even though he has no feelings for her, it is still a better option than enduring her mother. But Flint Hamilton has his own plans and they don’t include marriage, even to the pretty temptress. Securing his reputation in the hostelry business and earning his father’s respect are far more important. He did not count on having to deal with horse thieves and rogues in addition to his guests. When tragedy strikes, Cassie and Flint must do whatever it takes to rid the inn of its newly arrived specter—who has no intention of leaving…