November 18, 2013

Case File #013.11.18: DINNER

The ultimate source of the English noun dinner is the unrecorded Vulgar Latin verb disjunare, which essentially meant “to stop fasting.” (Unrecorded word? Yes. Though the term in question never appeared in Vulgar Latin texts, etymologists and linguists have a plethora of evidence suggesting that it was used in everyday conversation.) Old French used the Latin as the basis for the noun desiuner, which originally meant “breakfast” but later came to mean “midday meal.” By the end of the thirteenth century, the form of the Old French word had evolved to disner, and around 1300, English borrowed the Old French but Anglicized it to the now familiar dinner. Okay, I know what you're thinking. At this point, you're wondering if the English word is still used to mean “midday meal” or if now means “evening meal.” Am I right? Well, one thing is certain: ever since it first appeared in the English lexicon, dinner has always been used to denote the main meal of the day. But the time of day at which that meal is eaten has varied over the centuries, and whether an individual or group defines dinner as either “midday meal” or “evening meal” is basically determined by nationality, region, and social class.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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