Supper is the name for the evening meal in some dialects of English - ordinarily the last meal of the day. Originally, in the middle ages, it referred to the lighter meal following dinner, which until the eighteenth century was invariably eaten as the midday meal.
The term is derived from the French souper, which is still used for this meal in Canadian French, Swiss French and sometimes in Belgian French. It is related to soup. It is also related to the German word for soup, Suppe. (The Oxford English Dictionary, however, suggests that the root, sup, retains obscure origins)
In England, whereas "dinner", when used for the evening meal, is fairly formal, "supper" is used to describe a less formal, simpler family meal, but also the fairly formal variety in others. In some areas of the United Kingdom, "supper" is used to describe an evening meal when dinner has been eaten around noon. In some northern British and Australian homes, as in New Zealand and Ireland, "tea" is used for the evening meal. In parts of the United Kingdom, supper is a term for a snack eaten after the evening meal and before bed, usually consisting of a warm, milky drink and British biscuits or cereal, but can include sandwiches.
Supper may refer to, on largely class-based distinctions, to either a late-evening snack (working and middle class usage) or to make a distinction between "supper" as an informal family meal (which would be eaten in the kitchen or family dining room) as opposed to "dinner"; generally a grander affair (either or both in terms of the meal and the courses within the meal itself), which would be eaten in the best dining room, may well have guests from outside the household, and for which there may be a dress code.
It is common for social interest and hobby clubs that meet in the evening after normal dinner hours to announce that "a light supper" will be served after the main business of the meeting. In New Zealand it is similar – generally cake and tea/coffee served later in the evening, particularly when people have visitors.
In most parts of Canada, "supper" and "dinner" are considered synonyms. In some areas either term may be rarely used. It is typically served between 6pm and 8pm. The only real requirement is it must be eaten after lunch.
In rural areas of the United States Upper Midwest dinner is a larger noon-time meal, and supper is a lighter evening meal and similar to eating customs in northern Europe where most of the inhabitants originate from. Supper is the last of three to five daily meals: breakfast, (morning lunch), dinner, (afternoon lunch or "coffee") and supper. The main meal is between 11.30am and 1pm. Supper is usually lighter and often consists of bread with cold meat, cheese, soup, salads, fried potatoes, egg dishes and / or dairy products. The decline of typical Midwestern farm culture and urbanization of American language and habits has led to a change in Midwestern eating habits in the past thirty years. Supper is still usually considered lighter fare and a more casual setting, and may be served before a usual dinner time so that evening activities may be unaffected.
In New England "dinner" refers to a more formal evening meal, such as at Christmas or Thanksgiving, while "supper" refers to an evening meal eaten everyday by the family consisting of traditional fare — often cod, haddock, or chicken, potatoes, and baked beans.
In Saskatchewan, and much of Nova Scotia, in Canada, "supper" means the main meal of the day, usually served in the late afternoon, while "dinner" is served around noon. "Dinner" is used in some areas, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, to describe the noon meal as well as special meals, such as "Thanksgiving Dinner" or "Christmas Dinner", and the evening meal being "supper". For harvest meals put on by churches and other community organizations, the term used is "Fowl Supper" (features turkey) or "Fall Supper", never "dinner".
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