Yes, There’s a Difference Between the Terms “Dinner” and “Supper”
The terms “supper” and “dinner” can be used pretty interchangeably, but “dinner” is typically used more often. Regardless, if someone says one or the other, most people will know they’re referring to the last meal of the day. But we came across some shocking news: they’re not the same thing after all—and if your grandparents or parents used the term “supper,” there’s a good chance your ancestors were farmers.
“[In the 18th and early 19th centuries,] Americans regularly ate a light supper as their evening meal because they were eating dinner—the biggest meal of the day—around noon,” food historian Helen Zoe Veit told NPR. The purpose of eating their biggest meal at noontime was so farmers would have more strength and energy to get through the rest of their workday, according to the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange. Dictionary.com confirms, “dinner” doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific time of day. It simply means the main meal of the day. “Supper,” however, stems from the Old French word “souper,” meaning “evening meal.”
So what changed? Eating the biggest meal of the day around noon started to become a thing of the past when more Americans began working away from their homes and farms. “They couldn’t readily return home to cook and eat in the middle of the day,” says Veti. And so, more and more people shifted their main meal of the day to the evening, when they could spend more time enjoying their food and spending time with their family. Check out these foods that have a different name in the UK.
Today, you might notice that the term “supper” is more commonly used in Southern and Midwestern states, probably due to those regions having a greater reliance on agriculture than Northern states and thus having more ancestors who were farmers. The way you say these other words will tell us where you’re from, too.
- NPR: “How Many Daily Meals Did We Once Eat?”
- StackExchange: “‘Lunch’ vs. ‘dinner’ vs. ‘supper’ — times and meanings?”
- Dictionary.com: “Supper vs. Dinner”