Dinner is a term with several meanings.
Around North America in general, dinner may be a synonym of supper – that is, a large evening meal. However, in parts of Canada and the United States, dinner can be a synonym of lunch.
In the United Kingdom, to many people, dinner is a meal in the middle of the day but can also be used to mean an evening meal and there is sometimes snobbery and reverse snobbery about which meaning is used. School dinners is a British phrase for school lunches.
The word dinner originally meant a morning meal but this meaning is no longer in use.
A more formal definition of "dinner", especially outside North America, is any meal consisting of multiple courses. The minimum is usually two but there can be as many as seven. Possible courses are:
Some confusion is caused by the word entrée, which is used in America for the main course, but which was originally one of the earlier courses (most likely the fish course, when the main dish was red meat). In French, les entrées are the appetisers, and entrée is a somewhat pretentious word in Great Britain for the same thing ("starters" is more commonly seen).
Dinner is generally followed by tea or coffee, sometimes served with mint chocolates or other sweets, or with brandy or a digestif. When dinner consists of many courses, these tend to be smaller and to be served over a longer time period than a dinner with only two or three courses. Dinners with many courses tend to occur at formal events such as dinner parties or banquets.
This formal version of the meal is generally served in the evening, starting some time between 7.30 and 8.30 (in the Netherlands typically at 6.00). It may be served at midday or shortly afterwards. However this tends to be more common practice in Scotland than in other countries.
In England during the mid-17th century, dinner was served at any time between 11 am and 12 noon and was a rich, heavy, alcoholic meal that lasted for anything up to 3 or 4 hours. After the meal proper, the men would stay at the table to smoke, chat, and drink, while the women would retire to a boudoir to talk, sew, and brew tea.
Then during the 18th century, dinner was served at a gradually later and later time until by the early 1800s, the normal time was between 7:00 and 8:30 pm and an extra meal called luncheon had been created to fill the midday gap.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46