A great friend of mine asked me to talk about this topic for my next blog because she is really curious about the differences. I never really thought of there being enough substance for this to evolve into a topic. A challenge perhaps, and everyone who knows me knows how competitive I am! So here it goes. The difference totally depends on where you live, south, north, England, etc. and what time of day it is. Simple... there you go.
Well that seems simple enough, but...there has to be more to it, like the history behind it, the cultural differences, the effects on the word because of television, etc. I personally rarely, if ever, use the word supper (unless we are on our annual trip to Door County, WI and are eating at a Supper Club). My siblings, my in-laws, and my husband all use the word dinner to describe the largest meal of the day, which for us is consumed in the evenings (unless we are on our annual trip to Door County, WI and where every meal is our largest of the day). My 65 year old father (sorry for the age shout out) , however, does occasionally uses the word supper. My amazing 97 year old grandmother does use the word more frequently. So there IS something interesting here. When, why and how did the change happen here in the USA?
In England, the term supper is used more often than it is where I live. "Supper", across the pond, can refer to a light meal which is consumed after dinner (which may be served in the middle of the day). In the 18th century, the British definition of "dinner" was different depending on what class you belonged to. If you lived comfortably in the upper middle class and middle class then "dinner" would be a formal meal at the end of the day, but conversely if you were poorer then "dinner" would be your main meal served around noon and perhaps followed by a light, informal meal, "supper", at the end of the day. Today, this no longer is the case and the words are used interchangeably.
In America, the two are basically synonyms and the usage depends on where you live. In the south they use supper more often than in the north, where perhaps they have a bigger meal at noon making it more like a "dinner" and then a lighter fare, "supper" in the evening. It is interesting, however, that older generations and more rural based people use the word supper more frequently. My grandmother uses the word with some frequency and she grew up on a rural Illinois farm where the main meal was served in the middle of the day. Somewhere and somehow the term supper faded when you got closer to a large city. This to me is interesting. Perhaps it was the effect of modernization, industrialization, more education, diversity of people. I don't know the answer to this. But it is clear that younger people rarely use the word supper and the older generations tend to use the word more frequently.
So to my friend, there is some food for thought and something to ponder tonight as you are eating a wonderful vegetarian meal! How I miss you! For the rest of my readers, think about if you know anyone who uses the word supper and perhaps how and when that word faded and the term dinner came forth. All in all, if it is dinner, supper, lunch, tea enjoy your food and the company with whom you are eating.