June 17, 2019

"lunch (n.) 'mid-day repast, small meal between breakfast and dinner,' 1786, a shortened form of luncheon...

"... which is of uncertain origin; it appears to be identical with an older word meaning 'thick piece, hunk' (1570s), which perhaps evolved from lump (n.) [OED]. There also was a contemporary nuncheon 'light mid-day meal,' from noon + Middle English schench 'drink.' Old English had nonmete 'afternoon meal,' literally 'noon-meat.'... As late as 1817 the only definition of lunch (n.) in Webster's is 'a large piece of food,' but this is now obsolete or provincial."

From Etymology Online, which I'm reading after having a conversation based on the discussion in the previous post of the Trump quote "I’m not a breakfast guy at all, fortunately. I like the lunches but the dinners is what I really like."

So the original use of "lunch" is like this (from the OED):
1600 R. Surflet tr. C. Estienne & J. Liébault Maison Rustique vii. xxv. 850 He shall take breade and cut it into little lunches [Fr. loppins] into a pan with cheese.
And the oldest in-print use of "lunch" to mean the meal is:
1829 H. D. Best Personal & Lit. Mem. 307 The word lunch is adopted in that ‘glass of fashion’, Almacks, and luncheon is avoided as unsuitable to the polished society there exhibited.
Somehow, people decided it was low class to say "luncheon."  In the 1600s, people were saying "luncheon" to refer to a meal, and it was originally a snack between breakfast and the midday meal (called "dinner"):
a1652 R. Brome Madd Couple Well Matcht v. i, in Wks. (1873) I. 92 Noonings, and intermealiary Lunchings.
4 words, and 3 of them are new to me: l. noonings, 2. intermealiary, 3. lunchings.

"Nooning" (as a synonym for "lunch") appears in Mark Twain's "Tramp Abroad" (1880): "A German gentleman and his two young lady daughters had been taking their nooning at the inn."

61 comments:

tcrosse said...

Nooning must not be confused with a nooner.

iowan2 said...

In the agrarian culture of German immigrants, lunch was at 9 and 3. Dinner at noon. Supper is the evening meal.

I am the outlier in using this verbiage. It makes for lively, and meaningless debates. But I still enjoy telling others they are wrong.

Ann Althouse said...

Etymology Online relies on the OED but misreads it. EO says that in the 1820s "lunch" "was regarded either as a vulgarism or as a fashionable affectation." But the word that was regarded as vulgar (as you can see from the quote I put in the post) was "luncheon." People had been saying "luncheon" for the meal, but they switched to "lunch." It was "luncheon" that "was regarded either as a vulgarism or as a fashionable affectation." It still does seem affected to say "luncheon" instead of "lunch."

"Lunch" is a funny word, don't you think? The OED speculates that it may have "evolved" from "lump." It notes that "hunch" is related to "hump" and "bunch" is related to "bunch." There's some kind of evolutionary path that gets from the "mp" to the "nch."

Craig Howard said...

Interesting that Trump didn't say, "I like my lunches".

Young at heart.

Phil 314 said...

My parents were from Iowa and often confused me and my brothers by periodically and out of habit calling lunch, dinner and dinner, supper. But they definitely knew what breakfast was. Mom always fixed breakfast. Hot and a helluva lot.

David Begley said...

In parts of Nebraska, the mid-day meal is called dinner.

Ann Althouse said...

"Nooning must not be confused with a nooner."

I thought about that, but "nooning" has a much older meaning, "A rest taken at noon; (occasionally) resting at this time." (Goes back to the 1500s)

Another meaning of "nooning," going back to the 1700s, is "An interval in the middle of the day, esp. for food or rest; a lunch-break."

Seems to me, a nooning could well include sex.

As for "nooner," it's US slang, and the oldest use is for an alcoholic drink taken at midday: "1836 Let. 1 May in G. A. McCall Lett. fr. Frontiers (1868) 313 I took up the black bottle from which we had taken our noon-er, still half full of whisky."

"Nooner" for sex at midday is first seen in print only in 1964, and it's Helen Gurley Brown in "Sex & Office": "This institution of the two-hour ‘little affair’..is as old as anyone can remember... In the South it's called a ‘nooner’." Clearly, Brown didn't invent the term. She wrote down a regionalism. Was she from the South? Yes: Arkansas.

Marcus said...

"Luncheon" has now been relegated to mean a planned lunch gathering.

THEOLDMAN

Ignorance is Bliss said...

There's some kind of evolutionary path that gets from the "mp" to the "nch."

President Trunch just kinda rolls off the tongue...

tcrosse said...

President Trunch just kinda rolls off the tongue...

As the Truncheon rolls off your skull

RichAndSceptical said...

Sounds like Trump was doing intermittent fasting before it was cool!

EDH said...

"Lunch? Aw, you gotta be kiddin'. Lunch is for wimps."

(It fit better here.)

Jeffery in Alabama said...

In rural areas of the South the midday meal is still referred to as "dinner", but not so much in metropolitan areas. The evening meal is called supper.

tcrosse said...

"Nooner" for sex at midday was a common expression in the armed forces. I figured it was one of those nautical terms that dated from the days of wooden ships and iron men, although an "eight bells of the forenoon watch-er" would take longer to say than to perform.

rehajm said...

The puppydogs get supper.

tcrosse said...

On board ship these meals were referred to as the noon meal and the evening meal, so as to paper over regional differences among the crew.

J. Farmer said...

“Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two in the afternoon, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before.”

-Billy Crystal as Mitch Robbins in City Slickers

Fernandistein said...

But I still enjoy telling others they are wrong.

It's your duty to do so because the general public has a right to enlightenment.

Steve Schainost said...

In farm country, as pointed out by iowan2 and Dave Begley, the big meal of the day was 'dinner' and that was the noon meal. 'Lunch' was in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. 'Supper', the evening meal, was generally a smaller meal, often left-overs from 'dinner'. Farming was hard physical labor in those days and burned a lot of calories.

madAsHell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Otto and Anna 4x4x4 nooner word cube (stack the 4 planes)

a n n a
n o o n
n o o n
a n n a

n o o n
o t t o
o t t o
n o o n

n o o n
o t t o
o t t o
n o o n

a n n a
n o o n
n o o n
a n n a

Otto alone

n o o n
o t t o
o t t o
n o o n

o t t o
t o o t
t o o t
o t t o

o t t o
t o o t
t o o t
o t t o

n o o n
o t t o
o t t o
n o o n


Levi Starks said...

I’ve always preferred second breakfast

Amadeus 48 said...

It’s all about Trump. Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.

LCB said...

On my grandpaw's farm, they ate a huge breakfast very early, worked until 1 or 2, then ate a huge "dinner". Supper was snacking on leftovers around 7, say a peice of ham, cheese or chicken with a roll or biscuit.

traditionalguy said...

Brunch anyone? Eggs Benedict and champagne.

Char Char Binks said...

I never think in terms of breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper, dinner, snack, etc. I just eat food.

gilbar said...

and it was originally a snack between breakfast and the midday meal (called "dinner"):

I'd Always wondered what the english language term for Second Breakfast was, now i know!

Paddy O said...

7:00am – Breakfast
9:00am – Second Breakfast
11:00am – Elevenses
1:00pm – Luncheon
4:00pm – Afternoon Tea
6:00pm – Dinner
8:00pm – Supper

According to Hobbit lore

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

"Get not thy knickers in a buncheon"

gilbar said...

Paddy, they only ate 6 meals a day, not seven; they weren't gluttons!

ken in tx said...

I never ate lunch until I started school. Ate it in the lunchroom. At home we had breakfast, dinner, and supper. Alabama,1950s. They also had food I never seen before, like English peas.

Rick.T. said...

In Indiana, as with many things, we sort of overlapped cultures. Lunch was mid-day but the formal mid-day meal on Sunday was dinner. The evening meal was usally supper but occasionally dinner. Brunch, you ask? Explained by the Simpsons:

Jacques:
It's not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of canteloupe at the end. You don't get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal.

Fernandistein said...

Ad in the Navajo Times ('cept the chicken is wearing a t-shirt since it's in the paper's sports section) -

"The kids are at home and they're hungry!!"

"Eating eggs for
breakfast
prolongs that full feeling.

It's the protein!"

Christy said...

Breakfast, Dinner, Brunch.

I've eaten scrambled eggs for supper. Deviled eggs frequently show up for dinner here in the South. Lunch is the work-a-day noon meal. Dinner is the meal on Sunday after church and any company evening meal. Except on the farm, when I took my turn cooking for Papaw when Mamaw was away, I quickly learned that Dinner was the big meal midday everyday.

Laurent said...

Ann,

I figured you would get a kick out of this since we are talking about definitions.

https://twitter.com/TwitterMoments/status/1140619812391006208

Twitter is noting that Trump has just coined the term, Motley Crew.

MayBee said...

Nancy Drew always had luncheon.

MayBee said...

In my lifetime, in the midwest, luncheon was an event at which lunch was served. So you'd go to a PTA luncheon honoring the new officers.

MayBee said...

In England they have tea. My friends would serve it as a light late-afternoon snack. When we first moved to Hong Kong, my 4th grader went over to play at the house of a British friend, and she asked him if he would like tea. He said yes, so she made the evening meal with him in mind. He wondered why it took so long to make a cup of tea, and eventually told her he needed to go home for dinner.
She was baffled! Hadn't he just said he would be staying for tea?

It was funny how much confusion this caused, since we both thought we spoke the same language.

PB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PB said...


Many in the Midwest use dinner meaning the same as lunch, with supper being the evening meal, though elsewhere dinner is the main evening meal while supper is a late night snack or light meal. Tea or "tae" is often referred to the main evening meal in Ireland and Scotland.

Yancey Ward said...

I only like a big breakfast if I am doing very physical, hard work during the mornings. It is also the only times I like a big lunch, too. I really only did this sort of thing when I worked house construction/roofing during the Summers of my schooling years. I also revert to that pattern if I go on extreme hiking vacations-my favorite type- where I will be doing 10-20 miles of walking with a backpack during the day. At all other times, all I really like in the morning is a cup of coffee with a muffin or bagel.

Narr said...

My upbringing was intersectional, between north German peasant food and down home Suthen.

"Luncheon" was, as noted, something formal for a group. "Lunch" was just eating around midday. Supper and dinner were interchangeable almost, with dinner having more gravitas.

My Opa and Oma had Sunday lunches with roast beef, gravy, ham, potatoes in great variety and quantity (not a fan), schnibbelbohn, rotegrutze, vegetables in season, sometimes venison or duck--a virtual stammtisch for the German-speaking community here and those that married in.

By 2pm most people were semi-comatose, but by 4 or 430 the adults would be having strudel or cake and coffee. Made Sunday dinner-supper moot.

Narr
They worked hard too


SoLastMillennium said...

Can not help but notice you started with a post that SEEMED to criticize ABC news for sticking to a few hard political points missing the most interesting bits, then moves to meals of the day.

I approve of this trolling of your commentators!

And your word problems as a professor must have been very entertaining. (What exactly am I trying to answer now??)

mockturtle said...

I just knew tcrosse would beat me--and everyone else--to the obvious. ;-)

mockturtle said...

Like the Hobbits, I have a second breakfast. As I arise early, I start with a cup of black coffee and a bowl of oatmeal [or other cereal] then around 9:00 I have a hard-boiled egg and a mandarin orange. Lunch is usually a turkey roll-up, almonds and half a banana.

mockturtle said...

Oh, and the other half of banana at breakfast number one.

RobinGoodfellow said...


Blogger iowan2 said...
In the agrarian culture of German immigrants, lunch was at 9 and 3. Dinner at noon. Supper is the evening meal.


I’m from Florida. In my experience some southerners refer to daily meals as breakfast, dinner (aka, lunch), and supper.

tcrosse said...

Lunch is consumed in a Luncheonette, supper in a Supper Club. (Especially if it's prime rib, au gratin potatoes, and a brandy old fashioned in Wisconsin).

BJM said...

An Austrian breakfast is usually a Semmel, butter, coffee and perhaps some cheese or cold cuts, a hard boiled egg...so by mid morning they are ready for zweites frühstück or as they call it "fork breakfast"...the meal is usually hot and should be substantial enough for a fork to stand erect in the bowl/dish. The air in a public market in Wein between 9:30-10:30 AM is redolent with delightful smells of zweites offerings. My favs were a bowl of cabbage rolls topped with a dollop of schmand, hasenpfeffer and spaetzle, or Schnitzelsemmeln (rolls filled with a hot crunchy schnitzel)...that might just get one to lunch or the next wurst stand.

Tina Trent said...

What a great site. Here is the etymology of etymology:

"Classical etymologists, Christian and pagan, based their explanations on allegory and guesswork, lacking historical records as well as the scientific method to analyze them, and the discipline fell into disrepute that lasted a millennium. Flaubert ["Dictionary of Received Ideas"] wrote that the general view was that etymology was 'the easiest thing in the world with the help of Latin and a little ingenuity.'"

Otherwise, with a diet like that, Mockturtle might live forever.

Tina Trent said...

The only time I had dinner in Mississippi, it was ham in Coca Cola, green beans in butter and bacon, greens in bacon and ham hock, sweet potatoes in brown sugar, cornbread with jalapenos and bacon grease, macaroni and cheese with bacon, black eyed peas and hock, buttermilk biscuits, and a fifteen-layer freezer brick cake (built over time from the trimmings of other cakes, compressed, frozen, and served on special occasions). Also sweet tea.

The cake rivaled anything you'd get in a fin de siecle Austrian patisserie.

The rest was merely astonishing.

mockturtle said...

Otherwise, with a diet like that, Mockturtle might live forever.

Dear Lord, I hope not! Not in the earthly sense, anyway.

MadTownGuy said...

So what is the deal with the "Noon Lunches" signs at some WI restaurants? I've never seen them in any other state. And what's the difference between a "Noon Lunch" and any other kind of lunch. I'm guessing none.

Gk1 said...

I went to college in Kansas and worked during the summer with the campus electricians who were all townsfolk and they confused me by saying we were breaking at noon for "dinner". Later in the morning as we were getting ready to get assigned the days tasks there would be some small talk about what they had for supper and how they were eating leftovers for dinner. Most of these guys grew up on farms where they had power house breakfasts of pork steaks, fried potatoes, coffee, pie you name it. For dinner they might have fried chicken, string beans with bacon and dumplings, ice tea. Dinner was just what was left over from lunch like a piece of chicken and a cold roll, that was it. Just the thought of all that food in the morning made me ill, but then again I wasn't up at 5:00am milking cows and harvesting eggs before having to plow fields all day.

Nichevo said...


PB said...

Many in the Midwest use dinner meaning the same as lunch, with supper being the evening meal, though elsewhere dinner is the main evening meal while supper is a late night snack or light meal. Tea or "tae" is often referred to the main evening meal in Ireland and Scotland.

6/17/19, 11:15 AM

There is high tea and there is low tea. High tea is foofy stuff like cucumber sandwiches, low tea more like a square meal. Both of course involve tea.

Anthony said...

I've had this discussion before at my blog, which I shan't link to because it would look like link hustling, although usually around the dinner/supper question. Also the second-breakfast question.

In Wisconsin, I grew up calling the evening meal 'supper'. When I moved to the west coast (Seattle) everyone called it 'dinner' and I felt kind of provincial calling it supper. We called a big mid-day meal, usually on holidays, 'dinner'. So for example, you could have a Thanksgiving meal around 1 as Thanksgiving Dinner, but then around 6 pm, you make something else (for some reason, sloppy joes were always on the menu then) and call it 'supper'. 'Lunch' would be a normal, smaller noon-time meal.

Dinner/supper is, I think, derived from the farming schedule, along with 'second breakfast'. One would get up early, eat a light breakfast before doing early-morning chores, and then have a larger second breakfast, and continue working until the noon-ish hour when one would have the major meal of the day, dinner. After working until later in the day -- early evening or such -- one would have a somewhat smaller 'supper'.

Quaestor said...

As late as 1817 the only definition of lunch (n.) in Webster's is 'a large piece of food'...

Obviously not lunch.

tcrosse said...

So what is the deal with the "Noon Lunches" signs at some WI restaurants?

Not the same as Naked Lunch, otherwise known as a Nooner.

iowan2 said...

Just the thought of all that food in the morning made me ill, but then again I wasn't up at 5:00am milking cows and harvesting eggs before having to plow fields all day.

Our family traded labor for silo filling with a neighbor dairy farmer husband and wife. They immigrated to the US as children with their respective parents, from Germany. When we went over there after morning chores, we would fill until 9:30, by then the wife would have laid out, cold cuts, hand churned butter, homemade bread, coffee cake, and fresh milk. The wife baked bread every morning...before she went outside to tend to the veal calves, and gather the eggs. She then started preparing dinner, and baking a couple of pies, the ice cream was already made.

It always made me appreciate what I had. I only thought I was put upon and worked too hard. That woman did more by 9 am than I did in a week.

Josephbleau said...

Tina Trent, do not emenentise the entomology.
I am old enough to remember that when you worked for a Fortune 500 company you had 3 drinks for lunch each day. On Friday you went to the Berghoff (for Chicago) and had 6 beers.

Josephbleau said...

Etymology of course.