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See a Man About a Horse, Again

Salut, superfriends! It's another newsletter from A Way with Words.

This week's episode was a re-run, one that we particularly liked because it has the famed "dinner vs. supper" call, which is still generating buckets of mail. Listen to it here:


It also included "tie me over" vs. "tide me over," "see a man about a horse," long words, and the best way to say "twice a week."

We ran a follow-up on the air a few weeks ago about dinner versus supper, but what we said there bears repeating: dinner and supper by no means have the same meanings for everybody.

A lot of you said that dinner is the largest meal of the day, period, no matter what time of day it's eaten. And in fact, many mainstream dictionaries do define dinner as the main meal of the day.

Of course, a lot of you also said otherwise.

Andy in Independence, Missouri, spoke for a lot of listeners when he wrote about meals during his childhood. During the week the meals were breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but on Sunday, they'd be breakfast, dinner, and supper. Dinner, he says, was for the formal Sunday meal only.

Donna in Indiana wrote to say, "On our farm, meals are breakfast; dinner at noon, and supper in the evening. Lunch is something we serve to the men mid-afternoon, perhaps in the house but often either sent to the field with them or taken to them." Lots of listeners agreed with her, too.

Karen in San Diego, however, wrote to say, "My husband and I grew up in Oklahoma, where the evening meal was, and still is, referred to as dinner. Supper was occasionally used for a very late meal eaten after dinner. My husband did not hear the evening meal regularly called supper until he went east to Connecticut to attend Yale." She also says, "We have never heard the noon meal referred to as dinner anywhere we have lived."

Looking at the "Dictionary of American Regional English" we can see that for much of the country, dinner is simply the evening meal. But for parts of the Lower Mississippi Valley States and the South Atlantic States, it's a bit more commonly used to mean the midday meal.

So! This is a dispute about usage. It falls into the same category as "soda" vs. "pop" vs. "coke." There's what you know, and there's what you don't know, and usually what you know and use yourself seems right, though it may seem wrong to others. In this case, it depends on the day of the week, the size of the meal, whether you're in the city or on a farm, and where in this great nation--or Canada--you live.

The mail server is also breaking under the weight of your suggestions for a better name for "retirement," so next week look for a follow-up to that in this space.

Finally, thanks for everyone who caught the error in last week's newsletter. Yes, we are trying to cure adult ILLITERACY not adult LITERACY. The only cure for adult literacy is television and there's too much of that going around already.

Best wishes far and near,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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