AMY KIRK: Dinner, lunch or supper?
If you eat dinner, is it at noon or in the evening? Not long ago, a reader asked me if I refer to "dinner" as the noon meal or evening meal. I hesitated with my answer, because I'd never considered what I justify as dinner.
I had to think out loud about what I normally say when I speak of the noon meal and the evening meal. If it's noon, I usually say, "Get in here. It's time to eat lunch."
If it's evening, I tell everyone, "Hurry up. Supper's ready." Repeatedly. I do use the word "dinner," but attach it to other words. Most often I refer to the table — the dinner table — which means nothing in regard to the noon or evening meal, just that I want my family to come to the table while the food is still hot. It doesn't matter which meal or time of day we're eating, we consume them all at the dinner table.
I also use the word "dinner" to reference the mealtime bell. I'll ring the dinner bell when I have any meal on the dinner table if no one's around and it's time to eat. My family is pretty good at ignoring my voice anyway, but when they're somewhere on the premises not within earshot and don't respond to my voice hollering at them, I ring the dinner bell a lot to annoy them until they start showing up at the house so I'll stop.
When I get ready to cook the last meal of the day, whether I call it supper or dinner is not nearly as important as figuring out what the heck am I going to fix that won't be another night of spaghetti, tacos or hamburgers. Oftentimes I'll say, "I'm not sure what I should fix for supper (or lunch)," as a way to generate suggestions from the family for supper in the evening or for lunch at noon.
Dinner is a meal that doesn't refer to anything that I've cooked. It's the kind of meal that is consumed elsewhere and I get a night off from cooking. Lunch and supper are home-cooked meals that are eaten at home. In our household, dinner is a stand-alone kind of meal. It's a fancy term we use for a meal that we consider a notch above supper and lunch and is not associated with eating at home. It's an evening eating activity that means we get to "go out" to consume food at a fancy restaurant or at the very least, one of our favorite restaurants and I didn't have to prepare it. When we "have dinner," it means we get to go out for it.
I've been in discussions about this issue in the past and overheard people arguing about what meal is considered dinner, and some speak adamantly that their use of the word "dinner" is the correct reference to either the noon meal or evening meal, depending on which meal side they take. In my opinion, referencing the dinner meal boils down to where you're from. I've always wondered if in South Dakota, the dinner word is an East River/West River difference.
Whether you call lunchtime dinner, suppertime dinner or both meals neither, it does not matter. They all mean the same thing to everyone wherever you're from: "It's time to eat."