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OnWords: The Tragic Loss Of Supper

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Sometime in my lifetime, we almost completely stopped using the word “supper.”

This is a tragic loss, if for no other reason than it has led to confusion.

Besides “brunch” and “lunch,” the only other post-breakfast word we have is “dinner,” and dinner can alternatively mean a noon meal or an evening meal. Importantly, dinner has a generic root that is still extant: to “dine.”

So while we can “sup,” that would be archaic, and it could create confusion with the common slang contraction for the phrase “what’s up?”

I, for one, am perfectly comfortable with dining for supper, but I am not comfortable with having dinner for supper.

I can’t explain the disappearance of supper. I do not think it has all that much to do with shifting eating patterns. We typically come up with new words to describe these alternative arrangements, like the aforementioned brunch, and the word lunch remains, even though many people skip it in favor of work or racquetball at the Y or updating a Twitter feed. And the word “breakfast” is still around even though many more observe it in the breach that nutritionists are comfortable with.

Maybe supper, just seems old fashioned. Maybe dinner seems somehow classier. But if we chose to lose supper, we choose at our own peril.

After all, I’d rather be old-fashioned and clear than hip and late for dinner.