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SOCIAL CLASS MISTAKES: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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BRITISH CULTURE: Sometimes in English words have strong social class connotations. Here we look at how different people use these common words in very different ways.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, supper. (nouns)  Meal times in Britain often change names depending on the region in which you live and often on your class background.

 

In many parts of Britain lunch is called dinner. Nobody, for example, says school lunch, but rather we call it school dinner. This is normally eaten in the dining hall at lunchtime, which is about one o’clock. 

 

Christmas dinner is also eaten at two or three o’clock and should, therefore, be called lunch too. Dinner also refers to the traditional main family meal. This is often eaten between six and seven in the evening, which is after most British people come home from work. Dinner is eaten a little later, if you eat out or have dinner parties. 

 

 

In many parts of Britain, especially in working class areas and in informal language, this family dinner is referred to as tea or teatime. Foreign students often think that if someone says, ‘I’m going home for tea!’ they mean they are going home to drink a cup if tea! Wrong! It’s the mealtime at about six or seven o’clock.

 

Another popular myth is that the whole of Britain stops at exactly four o’clock to drink afternoon tea! You’ve been watching too many old films! The reality is that tea-breaks are taken in work places at different hours, and because there is such a short period between lunch and dinner, there isn’t the necessity to have a meal in the middle of the afternoon. You might have a piece of cake and a cup of tea, but it won’t be like in the black and white films, in which everybody takes out the silver teapots and has high-tea or cream tea (scones with jam and cream and a cup of tea) with Lady Plumbworth and the vicar. Supper is a small snack that is eaten a few hours after dinner or a few hours before bedtime. Amongst the middle classes it is common to refer to dinner as supper.

 

Not even the word breakfast is safe! To confuse matters even more, the meal eaten after a wedding, usually in the afternoon, is called the wedding breakfast! Don’t worry. We are as confused as you are. Let’s see if we can clear this up a little.

photo of a traditional British teapot

Standard British English

Working class/ informal English

‘Posh’/Upper class English

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Lunch(sometime between 12 and 2pm)

Lunch/Dinner

Lunch

Dinner(sometime between 6 and 9pm)

Tea/Dinner

Dinner/Supper

Supper(between dinner and bedtime)

Supper

Supper

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