Finding America

Me and Tarah

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As was previously documented on Lost in the Pond, there are a great many British food items that remain unfamiliar to the collective tooth of the United States. Further to that, we have seen that an inordinate amount of food items go by entirely different names, depending on which side of the Pond one is on. Perhaps less discussed, however, are those British words directly synonymous with the various meal times. Below are six such words that are not widely used in the United States.

1. Brekkie 
Following in the grand footsteps of similarly abbreviated words such as Chrimbo (for Christmas) and ciggies (for cigarettes), brekkie is merely a shortened version of breakfast. e.g. Jack? Make us some beans on toast for brekkie, would ya?

2. Starter
In the United States, the meal that immediately precedes the main course at a restaurant is known, quite logically, as an appetizer. However, in the UK, where—for once—an equal degree of logic is applied, there are two preferred terms. One of these is starter. e.g. Would you care for a starter before your main course arrives? For the other of the two words, see the next entry on the list. 

3. Entrée
Or should I say "the next entrée on the list?" This word is not itself absent from American English, but its meaning is much different in the States. Indeed Americans—along with their Canadian neighbours—use entrée to refer to the main course, especially one that is meat-oriented. The U.S. and Canada are, however, the only known countries to maintain this archaic usage, with most English speakers adopting the French position. e.g. Would you care for an entrée before your main course arrives? 
4. Dinner
Here's where it gets a little complicated. You see, some of the everyday expressions we assign in the UK to particular meal times are not always uniform across the UK itself. Dinner is one such example. In most of the south, dinner—just as it does in the U.S.—refers specifically to the evening meal. However, in the north, dinner can often mean lunch. e.g. Do you want to go and get some dinner? Breakfast didn't really hit the spot.
5. Tea
Here's where it gets monstrously complicated. Because people in the north are apt to do number 4, an entirely different word is needed to refer to the evening meal. This word—despite the nation's widespread penchant for the hot drink of the same name—is tea (also used in the same sense in Scotland and parts of Australia). Historically, this usage stems from the practice of high tea and afternoon tea. e.g. Your tea is in the oven. We'll eat it when your dad gets home from work. 

6. Afters
While both countries refer to this sweet post-dinner course as a "dessert", the British also use the word afters. The Septic's Companion states that this term was named not for the fact that dessert comes after the main course, but for Sir George After, the fat bastard of Brighton. However, a cursory search for the keywords "Sir George After" yield no conclusive results outside of the Septic Companion entry. Therefore, the etymology of the phrase remains in doubt. e.g. Did anyone save room in their bellies for afters?

7. Pudding
With British slang being the wonderful tome of alternatives that it is, afters is not the only way of referring to dessert. Indeed, the word pudding, which can also refer to a specific type of food item (such as sticky toffee pudding or, quite confusingly, main course items such as Yorkshire pudding) is used in the general sense to mean "dessert". e.g. Did anyone save room in their bellies for pudding?

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Laurence Brown is a British man documenting his life in the truly bizarre and beautiful world of America. Before the end of the decade, he plans to achieve his goal of visiting all 50 United States - highlighting each one in Lost in the Pond's Finding America web series. To help fund this exciting project, consider becoming a patron. Your contribution would be incredibly useful.


  1. How about the American term dinner? Dinner vrs. supper is always good for a discussion as some people use the terms interchangeably to mean the evening meal, while others mean dinner at noon and supper in the evening.

  2. Quite right, Anonymous. This is something that confused me when I first moved to the U.S. In the U.K., I always knew "supper" to mean a late night meal.

  3. My dad and I have discussed the dinner vs supper thing several times. I think it is the other way around, dinner in the north referring to the evening meal and supper in the south referring to the evening meal. My dad uses the terms breakfast, dinner, supper. I use the terms breakfast, lunch, dinner. If I am going out for an evening meal I make dinner reservations. Also, if you listen carefully in the movie "Cars" you will hear Lightening McQueen refer to breakfast as brekkie.

  4. Dinner vs. supper in the US seems to vary depending on where you're from (Midwestern US here). I always thought of supper as a less formal term--dinner brought to mind a big dinner party. Lunch was not dinner or luncheon, just lunch.

    I do say brekkie. I've been saying that for a while. :)

  5. My city-born mother called the three meals breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My farm-boy dad called them breakfast, dinner, and supper. I've always understood dinner to be the most substantial meal of the day---if you work on a farm, you eat it in the middle of the day, because you still have a lot of heavy work to do; if you're working in an office, you can eat it when you get home. It's more of an urban/rural distinction than anything else, I think.

  6. I'm from Kent and always used to refer to midday meal as dinner and evening meal as tea with late night snack as supper.

    If the midday meal is a large meal I'll still refer to it as dinner! Likewise if the evening meal was toast, omelette etc I'd call it tea. Therefore it's totally possible to have breakfast, tea break, lunch, tea break, tea!

    If you want to really confuse people, you should get into the UK's names for bread rolls!! Baps, Morning roll, Cob, Buttery, Lardy Cake, Bread cake, Stotty, scuffler, Tea cakes. To me, a tea cake is full of marshmallow covered in chocolate made by Tunnocks! To others it's sweet and raisiny or a bread roll!

  7. I'm from Alabama and we used supper for the evening meal. Dinner was the evening meal but eaten earlier (so, not lunch) on special occasions (e.g. Christmas dinner). Later, I moved to Texas where the word dinner was used and my use of the word supper was seen as quaint. So, they broke me of my habit and I now say dinner.

    On the topic of entree, I recently read a very good article discussing the etymology of the word. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I found it. An interesting tidbit from the article was that the current French use of the word is a fairly recent change. The article cited a book written in France in the 1930s wherein the author complained about the current trendy, and incorrect, use of the word to mean a starter.

  8. I'm from Oxfordshire. We say Breakfast, lunch & Dinner. If we're lucky we might get supper.

  9. For me in America, it's always been Breakfast (morning) Lunch (Noon or midday) and Dinner/Supper (for night) Then desert. But having a bit of English in me, I do LOVE the British terms and use some of them as well.

  10. Fun post. Though I suggest the confusion between lunch and dinner is more dependent on upbringing than north/south.

  11. Here's a question for you.. Would you consider Yorkshire pudding a bread? Just had a very heated argument with a friend over this question.


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