Friday, July 3, 2015

Breakfast, Brunch, and Brinner: A Guide to English Meals

Every culture has its own distinct customs, and if you've ever traveled to a foreign country, their meal customs are probably one of the first things you noticed. Before you set foot in a new place, it's generally a good idea to learn the local meal customs. If you think it's enough to know the translations of your typical meals, you will likely be mistaken in many places. For example, you're not likely to be served dîner (French for "dinner") at a nice restaurant in Paris at 5 p.m., or if you are, it will probably come with a side order of derision.

Things get even more complicated in Spain when you try to eat lunch. Your dictionary will probably tell you to use the word almuerzo, but this term is also often used to refer to a light mid-morning snack. If you're wanting your typical noon meal, it's la comida you're looking for... except you'll have to eat it closer to 2 p.m. and it will probably involve multiple courses, which makes it more like the typical evening meal of most English speakers.

Who could say no to such a decadent breakfast?
Since we know just how complicated understanding meal customs in a new place can be, today we're going to provide a quick guide to the many names for meals that are used in the English language, as well as a look into their origins.

Breakfast - As far as we're aware, this is the standard first meal of the day in every English-speaking culture. Its name comes from a combination of the words "break" and "fast". That said, the term is a bit misleading since "fasting" is generally considered to be the act of deliberately refraining from eating. I'm pretty sure if people could figure out a way to eat in their sleep, they would.

Brunch - Linguistically speaking, this is a portmanteau or blend of the terms "breakfast" and "lunch". While the exact characteristics of brunch vary, it generally takes place mid-morning and often features large servings of foods typically associated with breakfast. It's also fun to say.

Lunch - This one is a shortened form of the English word "luncheon", which dates back to the 17th century, if not earlier. In most English-speaking cultures, lunch is a mid-sized meal that takes place around noon.

Dinner - Now things start to get complicated... in general, this term applies to the largest meal of the day, which is usually eaten in the evening. However, dinner originally referred to the mid-day meal, which was the main meal of the day at the time. Over the years, its meaning has largely shifted to refer to the evening meal, but not always. For example, "Sunday dinner", "Christmas dinner" and "Thanksgiving dinner" all refer to large meals that are traditionally eaten in the afternoon in English-speaking countries.

Pizza: the perfect dish for any meal.
Supper - While "supper" and "dinner" are often interchangeable, when someone uses the term "supper", they are definitely referring to an evening meal. It also seems that many Americans have a very strong opinion as to whether you should use "supper" or "dinner" for the evening meal. (My verdict: dinner.)

Tea - Unless you're from the United Kingdom, you might be surprised to learn that "tea" can also be used to refer to the evening meal. This can cause quite a bit of confusion, including for other English speakers. As an American living in northern England, it took me quite a while to figure out whether people were asking me if I wanted a "cup of tea" or a meal!

Finally, if you love slang terms and breakfast foods, then you'll want to know the word brinner, which refers to the act of eating traditional breakfast items like pancakes or waffles for dinner. The term originated in the United States, but it is quickly gaining a following across the globe. I've also recently heard the term dessertitizer (dessert eaten as an appetizer) in an advertisement for an American restaurant chain, but since it seems to have been created as a marketing ploy and is quite a mouthful to say, it seems unlikely to catch on.