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‘Dinner’ or ‘Supper’?

Jake got called a hillbilly for using the word "supper" instead of "dinner," but that's wrong. "Supper" comes from farming culture.

By
Mignon Fogarty ,
June 11, 2018

Jake from Kentucky wrote that when he moved to Norfolk, Virginia, he was labeled a hillbilly for calling the last meal of the day "supper" instead of "dinner." He said, "To me ‘dinner’ and ‘lunch’ meant the same thing, only dinner was more so. You have a lunch in the school cafeteria. You have Thanksgiving dinner at the same time, but because there's more to eat, it's a dinner and not a lunch.”

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I just shrugged and said, ‘It's called the Last Supper not the Last Dinner’ and then because I care more than I probably should about what others think about me, I just call it ‘chow’ regardless of the time it's being served.”

People have asked me about this before: What is the difference between “dinner” and “supper”?

Dinner Versus Supper: The Data

Fortunately, dialect researchers have surveyed thousands of Americans about what they think the difference is between “dinner” and “supper.”

First, “supper” is far less commonly used in the western United States. It’s more of a southern, eastern, and midwestern phenomenon.

Digging into the data, about a third of respondents think the words “dinner” and “supper" mean the same thing and describe the evening meal. 

Another third don’t use the word “supper” at all, and I fall into that category, probably because I’ve lived my whole life in the non-“supper”-using western US.

Where it gets more ambiguous is at the midday meal. Most people today call the midday meal “lunch,” but about seven percent of people said they’d call the midday meal “dinner,” and nobody seems to call the midday meal “supper.” So that’s one way “dinner” and “supper” differ: Although both can be the evening meal, only “dinner” can be a midday meal.

Jake seems to fall into either the eight percent of people who say dinner is the biggest meal of the day no matter what time you have it or the 12 percent who say dinner takes place in a more formal setting than supper.

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