The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci


Word of the day, 3rd April 2015

Dinner /ˈdɪnə/

You might be thinking this is an odd word to choose for Good Friday, but I felt that you will hear many explanations about that from elsewhere.

(Also, don’t be confused by the picture – I explain my choice at the end).

Instead, I thought I would address this word which came up again today with an international friend, and seems to cause some confusion.

Most of my international friends seem to think the word “dinner” refers only to an evening meal.  But native English speakers learn from an early age that this word refers to a midday meal as well:  at school we have “school dinners” served by “dinner ladies“!

So the word actually has a few definitions:

  1. a meal taken in the evening
  2. a meal taken at midday, especially when it is the main meal of the day; lunch
  3. i) a formal evening meal, as of a club, society, etc
    ii) a public banquet in honour of someone or something

In common usage in English it is always used to mean “the main meal of the day.

Which is why, because I have the day off work today, my friend in China could say “I am just about to have my dinner,” to which I could reply “So am I” – despite the 7 hour time difference!

The word comes from old French “disner” (modern French “dîner“) and actually it originally meant breakfast!

It later came to mean lunch.  The shift from midday to evening began with the “fashionable classes“.  (And before you ask, I am not entirely sure what “fashionable classes” means, but I believe it was the more wealthy people of the 19th century; if you know Jane Austen novels, I think the likes of the fictional “Mr Bingham” and “Mr Darcy” would be in that group).

Here are some names for other meals of the day:

Breakfast /ˈbrɛkfəst/
– first meal of the day (literally “break fast”; fasting is a time of going without food)

Brunch /brʌntʃ/
– a meal eaten late in the morning, combining breakfast with lunch.

Lunch /lʌntʃ/
– a meal eaten during the middle of the day (shortened form of luncheon).
It can sometimes refer to any light meal or snack, as used in the term “packed lunch“.

Tea /tiː/
– Also called afternoon tea.
A light meal eaten in the mid-afternoon, usually consisting of tea and cakes, biscuits, or sandwiches.
But it may also refer to any meal taken at around 4pm (maybe up to 6pm.  For example, children might come home from school and have their tea).

Supper /ˈsʌpə/
– “last substantial meal of the day when dinner is taken in the middle of the day, or a late meal following an early evening dinner. Supper is usually a less formal meal than late dinner.” [Oxford English Dictionary]

So at last, I have found a link with Easter!

On the night before Jesus Christ was crucified at Passover (which many Christians particularly remember on Good Friday), Jesus shared a meal with his disciples that is often called “The Last Supper
– a famous painting by Leonardo da-Vinci imagines the scene.

Christians remember the Lord Jesus’ death by taking part in a very simple ceremony that Jesus Himself instituted at that time, eating bread and drinking some wine, and this is often called “The Lord’s Supper“.

And so that is why I chose this picture for this “word of the day”.


The digital photograph of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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