What is the Difference between a ‘Supper’ & a ‘Dinner’?


Lets Begin with their Meaning!


What do these words mean?

Dinner, which dates back to the late 1200s, refers to the main meal of the day—historically, a meal served midday for many peoples. The term comes from the Middle English diner, which, via French, goes back to a Vulgar Latin word represented as disjejunare, meaning “to break one’s fast.” The verb dine also comes from this root.

Supper, in terms of word origins, is associated with the evening. It comes from an Old French word souper, meaning “evening meal,” a noun based on a verb meaning “to eat or serve (a meal).” Fun fact: the word soup, also entering English from French, is probably related. The deeper roots of supper, soup, and related words like sup and sop, appear to be from Germanic roots from way back.

Simple Difference: Dinner and supper are generally synonymous when referring to a meal in the evening. However, dinner can be considered by some to be a somewhat more formal word. In chiefly British English, supper can also refer to a light meal or snack that is eaten late in the evening.

FUN FACT: If your grandparents or parents used the term “supper,” there’s a good chance your ancestors were Farmers.

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Distinction Between Supper and Dinner  

But the use of dinner to refer to the main meal of the day, eaten as the last meal of the day, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

For a long time, that main meal was held during the middle part of the day, around or slightly after the time we would nowadays allot for lunch. What was then called supper was a lighter meal taken toward the end of the day.

If you have read the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, you’ll recall that Max is sent to bed without any supper for misbehaving. If you interpret supper as “dinner,” you might be left with the impression that Max has been cruelly left to go hungry, but in all likelihood he had already eaten his day’s main meal. When he returns from his rumpus with the Wild Things, that supper is waiting for him in his room and it is still hot.

Many British writers of the 18th and 19th centuries made distinctions between dinner and supper much the way we might today for lunch and dinner.

HISTORY: The Last Supper

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In Christian theology, the term supper brings with it a suggestion of finality. The most famous supper, known as The Last Supper and immortalized in art by Leonardo da Vinci with that title, came when Jesus ate with his apostles before his crucifixion, laying the groundwork for the tradition of the Eucharist.

Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.—KJV Luke 22:20

And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; —KJV John 13:2

How Dinner Became Supper

A clue to the historical role of supper is given in its etymology. Both supper and dinner have closely related verbs in English: sup and dine. Dinner derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French verb disner, meaning “to dine.” The comparable etymon for supper is the Anglo-French super, meaning “to sup,” related to supe, the noun for “soup.” The typical meal prepared for supper was something of a light repast akin to soup—perhaps something that could be left to simmer on the stove throughout the day.

So what changed to make the evening hour the dinner hour? People’s daily schedules, for one thing. As historian Helen Zoe Veit notes at NPR.org, with the rise of industrialization, more Americans began working outside the home and couldn’t return to eat their main meal in the middle of the day.

So what was known as dinner got shifted to the evening, when those workers returned home, and we adopted lunch for the light midday meal in its stead. We most likely get the word lunch as a short form of luncheon, and luncheon as an alteration of nuncheon, referring to a light snack. That word’s history pins it to its hour of taking place. The Middle English nonshench, used for a midday refreshment, was formed from non, meaning “noon,” and schench, meaning “drink.”

It is logical, then, that speakers of certain generations, used to referring to supper as a day’s last meal, carried that word over for the main meal of the day taken in the evening, thereby leading to its conflation with dinner.

Now, we hope you saved some room for dessert.

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