If somebody told you that it was time for dinner when it was actually supper time, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought.
In fact, we may have used those terms interchangeably for many years. That is why you might be surprised to learn that there is a difference between the two that extends further than the spelling.
If you are in a family that regularly uses the term “supper,” then it is likely you come from a family that may have had farmers in your history. According to NPR, Helen Zoe Veit, a food historian said: “[In the 18th and early 19th centuries,] Americans regularly ate a light supper as their evening meal because they were eating dinner, the biggest meal of the day, around noon.”
Other resources are on board, including dictionary.com, which confirms that the term “dinner” refers to the main meal of the day but not necessarily a specific time of the day. Supper, on the other hand, comes from an old French word “souper,” which means the evening meal.
In other words, dinner could very well be breakfast, if that is the main meal of the day!
Things started to change in the way that these terms are used when Americans began working away from home in factories. The biggest meal of the day used to be around lunchtime but, since most people were working away from home, they would eat in the evenings when they got home from work.
The bottom line is, using the terms dinner or supper interchangeably is not necessarily going to be a dealbreaker. Then again, if you would like some interesting supper conversation, you could wait for somebody to call it dinner and then get the conversation going.SKM: below-content placeholder