Dinner – the meal in translation

The majority of the English-speaking world call their midday meal ‘lunch’ whereas ‘dinner’ is eaten in the evening. But it has not always been so. For centuries ‘dinner’ was the midday meal whereas in the evening one would eat ‘supper’. It was still in 1950s that the middle class in Britain referred to their midday meal as ‘dinner’. Today this usage has almost completely declined except for some ultraconservative speakers and certain foreigners.

It always gets complicated when the English terminology is used to describe cultures which are not central to the language but Poland concerts a deliberate effort to make things harder. Polish teachers of English tend to subscribe to the older English usage, and thus teach their pupils to render Polish ‘obiad’ (mid-day meal) as ‘dinner’, and ‘kolacja’ as ‘supper’, even if they mention that these strange Anglo-Saxons have their dinner in the evening. On the side note, since ‘obiad’ has been recently moving to the time after work, a new meal known in Polish as ‘lancz’ has been kicking in… the lunch break.

At the same time in Russia whose traditional mealtimes match Polish ones perfectly ‘obed’ is usually translated as ‘lunch’ and the evening ‘uzhin’ is known to students of English as ‘dinner’. There is also a growing tendency to have a ‘lantch’ after the ‘obed’ but it’s unclear how the eaters would describe their feasting in English.

A similar problem is to be found in French. Speakers from Canada, Belgium and Switzerland have a midday ‘dîner’ and an evening ‘souper’, which brings to mind the traditional English usage. And yet, French has evolved into a similar direction as English (just to emphasise: the French were probably first, as the usage still marvelled the English in the early 19th century): in France ‘dîner’ is dinner, lunch has taken over the name ‘déjeuner’, the old word for breakfast, and breakfast has become ‘petit déjeuner’ (must sound like a ‘little breakfast’ to a Canadian ear). And there’s also le goûter…

Have you ever stumbled on that kind of a situation when what you call dinner others call lunch or the other way round? Share your thoughts.


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