The origin of the “tea” being the term for evening meal are pretty well attested to lie the poverty of the English lower classes who could not afford much more than a cup of tea in the evening.
I grew up using the word “tea” to refer to the evening meal in Australia (actually my parents were at pains to avoid this usage, but the rest of my dad’s family still does). My father, the only one in his family to attend university, clearly saw it as a dangerous class marker.
Interestingly my mother grew up using a chai language (Marathi) in the home but te languages (Cantonese and Fujianese) in the street. These usages of course were all for the drink.
(And btw your comment was funny to me because on of the all time greatest linguists of English was a Dane, Otto Jesperson).
Upon moving to the central belt, and ingratiating myself into more middle class circles of friends I then discovered:
Breakfast - eaten usually when you get up in the morning, say early morning until ~1030am
Lunch - eaten from 12pm until ~2:30pm
Afternoon Tea - taken from around 3:30pm until 4:30pm (cakes/biscuits [cookies] and would also include some kind of sandwich - often cut into triangles)
Tea - 5pm until 6pm - usually a lighter two course meal (say an omlette) and some pudding (desert).
Dinner - taken from 7pm until perhaps 9pm - this would be a fully laiden two or three course meal.
Supper - taken from around 10pm until around 11pm (or just before bedtime) - likely cheese on toast or crackers & cheese and a cuppa.
Obviously you don't need to have every one of these meals every day of the week.
And there can be other terms of course. In Guadalajara, México, where I live, schools say "hora del lonche" (lunch time) to the midday meal.
Edit: He also says 'cena' is a more formal, less common way to refer to dinner.
Google translate translates lunch first as almuerzo and second as comida if you try it.
And sometimes if you're really lucky you'll meet a Southerner who'll freak out about it, "Ha! You said 'dinner' but you meant 'lunch'!! Ha! Ha! When do you eat your lunch?! Ha Ha!!"
I had an old boss that did this regularly. The dick.
If you have the main meal in the middle of the day then it is called "dinner". The snack you have at the end of the afternoon is "tea".
If you have the main meal at the end of the afternoon it is "dinner". The snack you eat in the middle of the day is "lunch".
The difference probably depends on if you go home for a meal at mid-day or not. The later is probably more traditional as people used to work or study much closer to home. And there was somebody around during the day to prepare a meal. But nowadays going home for a main meal in the middle of the day is unusual so we all just have a small snack.
On the other hand, the after-work evening meal is usually less heavy, and is rendered as "supper" in English. And, again, I find that Americans usually assume that it takes place much later than it normally does, and is also much lighter than it normally is (basically a snack rather than a proper meal), if I use that word.
So clearly there is some implicit time-of-day mapping there.
I was always told that dinner (from "dine") is the main meal of the day. So if you have a 'fancy' afternoon meal that can be your dinner (e.g. we usually do Christmas dinner between 3 and 4).
I wonder if HN knows of a linguistic map for meal names, it appears that these words shift meaning a lot.
EDIT: I thought this was interesting -- "Harvard's Dialect Survey had the question, 'What is the distinction between dinner and supper?' Here's the geographic distribution of their results from 10,661 American respondents"
"Christmas lunch is what most of our readers would eat, not Christmas dinner. Use the latter only if referring specifically to an evening meal."
In spanish you have 3 distinct meals, 'desayuno' 'almuerzo' and 'cena' mapping strictly to a moment of the day, more or less 'breakfast' 'lunch' and 'dinner', with the option of a merienda (roughly 'tea' but usually just sweet food like cookies or some such) between lunch and dinner. Each of this happens on a specific moment of the day (morning, noon, the optional afternoon thing and well into nighttime).
Are there other languages/dialects where the word maps the importance of the meal instead of the actual time it is consumed?
One other great British-English question is "what do you call an individually portioned baked bread article" ... roll, barm, bap, cob, ...
At some point dinner transitioned to lunch and teatime to dinner for us.
The three meals are "Breakfast", "Lunch" and "Supper". And if Lunch or Supper is the biggest/most formal meal of the day it may be called "Dinner" instead. Hence family "Christmas Dinner" may be at lunch time, but your "Dinner party" is in the evening.
Interesting side note, Sup (verb) the root word for supper has been in the (old) English language since before 900 AD.
Dinner is definitely most common near me but I wouldn’t blink if someone asked me over for supper or said it’s supper time.
Outside of farming people have their main meal (dinner) when they come home from their office in the evening. So the lighter meal in the afternoon becomes lunch and theres no tea.
BTW, Cantonese is actually a "chai language": the character 茶 (tea) reads like "char" as in charcoal, without the h sound and in a low tone.
I knew there was a heavy class difference here, but apparently there's also substantial regional difference even within the British Isles.
Now I'm really curious, because breakfast/dinner/supper is what I was taught in school, English being my second language. And I also very quickly found that it doesn't match common usage in any of the countries I've been too... but I thought that it's because of an attempt to better reflect the times of the meals in translation that backfired. Now it sounds like they were basically just teaching us English circa first third of the 20th century?
The shift over time from breakfast, dinner, and supper to breakfast, lunch, and dinner primarily reflects changing socioeconomic realities rather than some fundamental lexical shift.
Was your elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse? Did most people go home for the mid-day meal? Was school in session through the summer and winter with breaks for the planting season and the harvest? Did most people stop going after 6th, 7th, or 8th grade? If not, then I feel like your post may be non-responsive to mine.
Yep, that looks like a serious mistake. My impression is that 'tea' or 'high tea' describes an all-class, or primarily lower class, nighttime meal. "Afternoon tea" describes the ~4 PM snack with sweet pastries instead of a primary meal.
A bit of investigation says that our mutual impression is correct, but complicated by Scotland, where "high tea" may be served with the size and timing of "afternoon tea" but with heavier, savory dishes on offer.
In fact, though I also use three languages, the only one she and I have in common is English. Though I learnt some Marathi as a kid it was just how to read and how to talk about family relations (so limited in the European languages!) and food. We were in a part of Australia that hadn't yet heard that the White Australia laws had been abolished so speaking anything but English, even in your own home, was Very Bad, and emphasized your wog status.
I run into Mumbaikars and Punekars all the time here in the bay area but most are Hindi speakers.
Most Maharashtrians I know from the previous generation (including my parents) are from Maharashtra, and Maharashtrians have somewhat of a reputation for not wanting to leave Maharashtra.
Now it's become just another huge city IMHO.
"What are you having for tea?"
"Oh, err... just milk thanks"
Wiktionary says: dîner, From Old French disner, from Vulgar Latin *disiūnāre, from disieiūnāre, disjejūnāre (“to break the fast”)
When I acutally went and lived in London, I learned that it was a northern thing. Which is odd, because in other ways Australia seems to be dominated by London culture. Or at least Australians talk like Londoners.
Asking someone during the morning if they had their coffee, means if they had taken the breakfast.
My understanding was that this usage referred to a meal eaten in the evening, i.e. not lunch. Your link seems to confirm that.
My grandmother used to serve tea for the evening meal when there were no guests other than her little grandson. But that's the only Danish example I personally know of. Don't know why, tea is not a bad drink for a meal.
The large meal taken in the middle of the day was "middagsmad", or "midday food" (still is in the older generations, especially rurally, in Denmark), while "middag" is generally the larger, evening meal today (so, same deal as "dinner" in English).
In South Wales they talk about "cooked dinner" which is a roasted meat meal, usually chicken for Sunday lunch, but can be any time of the week. Presumably that harks back to families having lots of uncooked meals (through poverty).
That said I used to confuse some very northern friends by talking about dinner as my evening meal. They literally only thought of dinner as lunch and the evening meal was only called tea.
I think the roots were from when only the father of the house had a cooked evening meal, and everyone else had tea and sandwiches or similar. But that was distant past I believe.
I am not sure this is universal for Australia and may also not be the case now.
I'm fairly certain my neices and nephews (mostly teenagers now), no longer call the evening meal tea.
Edit: Applied jpatokal's correction.
> e.g. barley tea (大麥茶), ginger tea (薑茶), golden oats tea (燕麥茶), etc. all of which translate to tea
You call all of these things tea (and I would call them all tea too), so I'm not really sure why you say that cha doesn't necessarily translate to tea.
Most of the people in the US don't seem to care much about the distinction between infusions containing tea leaves and infusions that don't (when it's not just tea leaves); those who do, would often ask whether it's a caffeinated "tea" or not (infusions containing tea leaves usually contain caffeine).
Personally, I prefer to use the term "herbal infusion", because it unambiguous and relatively widespread.
However, in common usage people will say "herbal tea", both in English and Russian, even when aware that the tea plant is not in the mix. It seems like the crusade for "tea/chai" meaning something brewed from tea leaves is not only doomed, but has been lost before the West started to drink tea.
English <- French <- Latin <- Greek
Interesting that in English it starts with the "tea" sound, but has a completely separate origin (I don't think the ancient Greeks were even aware of Chinese tea...)
Ginger tea in India is a sweet, milky tea with camellia sinensis and ginger for flavour.
Anyways, I'm going to disagree with you. imo 茶 has the same meaning in different parts of China. It's just said differently in differents parts of China just as like it's called different things in different parts of Europe. The only difference is that in China it's written as the same character.
It is funny that this is the reverse process as how Latin evolved into Italian and Spanish etc after the fall of Rome.
Translating the article:
Pu-erh (chin. 普洱茶, pǔ’ěr chá) – a kind of tea that is classified as red tea in Poland (black tea in China since the Chinese classify the tea according to the colour of the brew, as opposed to Europeans who classify tea according to the colour of dried leaves).
When the character was created (appears in Erya under 'plants', so a very early character), it referred to one of a number of 'bitter herbs,' and linguists think it might have sounded like 'rlya'.
The character is composed of the top part, 艹 (classically written as 艸), meaning 'herbaceous plant' and the bottom part, 余, which supplied the pronunciation 'lya'.
There are two modern characters that come out of this, 茶 (cha) and 荼 (tu); the first one is used for tea/beverage, the second one has been borrowed a lot for its sound but at least one of its meanings is still 'bitter plant'.
It’s also used to refer to dim sum in hong kong as in “yamcha” (drink tea) which colloquially means to eat dim sum
Amusing weirding of language - it should really be a "masala"!
Seeing or hearing "chai tea" drives my Indian wife up the wall everytime.
Too many places, especially in Europe, fail at making spicy food, they just make burning hot (or bland) food.
I must admit though, I do have a soft spot for dirty chai, which is a chai latte with a shot of espresso.
In the Samogitian dialect of Lithuanian it's spelled "erbata", however the first "a" in modern Lithuanian isn't stressed, so it's very similar. Also in Kashubian (spoken in parts of northern Poland, often considered a dialect of Pomeranian) it is the same as modern Lithuanian.
On the other hand in Sambian Prussian it is "tejs", which is similar to "teja" in modern Lativan. It's interesting how two different forms emerged in the same geographic area.
I recently heard from a Turk that ibrik in Turkish today refers only to the small bucket used for washing oneself in Middle Eastern toilets. For the pot used to brew coffee, they say cezve.
Polish goes its own way.
Heck, why not argue that any “tisane” not made from barley isn’t a real tisane.
Relevant random factoid: it's possible to tell when many Chinese words were imported into Japan based on the pronunciation, which varies based on where the Chinese capital (and hence the ruling class dialect) happened to be. See "Onyomi" under
This is actually featured in the movie "Bronson", and I was unaware of its usage in the UK until I saw it.
Tea was imported by the Portuguese from China and became popular in Europe after that. The British then started producing tea massively in India to obtain it at a lower price.
"The history of tea is long and complex, spreading across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years. Tea likely originated in southwest China during the Shang dynasty as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century. Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British introduced tea production, as well as tea consumption, to India, in order to compete with the China monopoly on tea."
Visiting Mindanao island, in the Philippines in 1686, the Englishman William Dampier observed the following:
"...but the nutmegs this island produces are fair and large, yet they have no great store of them, being unwilling to propagate them or the cloves, for fear that should invite the Dutch to visit them and bring them into subjection as they have done the rest of the neighbouring islands where they grow. For the Dutch, being seated among the Spice Islands, have monopolised all the trade into their own hands and will not suffer any of the natives to dispose of it but to themselves alone. Nay, they are so careful to preserve it in their own hands that they will not suffer the spice to grow in the uninhabited islands, but send soldiers to cut the trees down. Captain Rofy told me that while he lived with the Dutch he was sent with other men to cut down the spice-trees; and that he himself did at several times cut down 7 or 800 trees. Yet although the Dutch take such care to destroy them there are many uninhabited islands that have great plenty of spice-trees, as I have been informed by Dutchmen that have been there, particularly by a captain of a Dutch ship that I met with at Achin who told me that near the island Banda there is an island where the cloves, falling from the trees, do lie and rot on the ground, and they are at the time when the fruit falls 3 or 4 inches thick under the trees. He and some others told me that it would not be a hard matter for an English vessel to purchase a ship's cargo of spice of the natives of some of these Spice Islands."
Whether the trees were truly native to this island, or brought there from elsewhere, is probably not known.
 A New Voyage Around the World, William Dampier, 1697, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500461h.html
Was there another source in India which the Portuguese had earlier access to? My initial cursory investigation via Wikipedia seems to indicate China as the initial source. I'd be really interested, from an historical point of view, if this wasn't the case.
In 1660 the British monarchy was restored. Charles and Catherine then introduced the custom of tea drinking to the British court.
A pair of Gauls and a Breton (by pure coincidence) brought tea to England.
It's all documented in history books such as this one:
The main impetus for the English to grow tea in India, was that it was costing too much to buy from the single monopolistic source, China. Basically, the Honourable Company was trading opium for tea. More money could be made, meeting English demand for tea, by producing it on Company controlled land.
The question is, where did Catherine of Braganza source her tea from? India, as suggested by the grandparent comment, or China.
My mums' native dialect is Teo Chiew, which is a variant of and falls under the Min Nan family of dialects (but can be quite different in many ways, a native speaker of one does not necessarily means mutual understanding of the others). And while similar, Teo Chiew uses a "dê” rather than "tê" for tea.
On another note, the area is also the origin of the "Gong Fu Cha" style tea ceremony. 
What kind of English accent do you have?
I'm from New Zealand, so the way I pronounce vowels is probably differs a lot from the prestige accents of English.
I have a hypothesis, mostly dependent on the position of a native English speaker, which I have no idea whether you are or not:
It's common to not be able to easily distinguish /e/ and /ai/. English does not have the former, and it tends to best match to the /ai/ diphthong, which glides over and would "average" to /e/.
It's also common to confuse aspiration and voicing on stops. English initial voiced stops are unaspirated, while initial unvoiced stops are aspirated. Hence, an unvoiced, unaspirated initial stop does not typically occur in English, and can vary in listener interpretation between /t/ or /d/.
This article covers voice onset time (VOT) and how voicing and aspiration play into it:
Important note is that VOT is negative for voiced, near zero for unvoiced, and positive for aspirated. This measurable phenomenon backs up the fact that unvoiced, unaspirated sounds are basically in between standard English sounds and why you can get differing interpretations.
Not sure about the vowel sounds, I found those all reasonably trivial to distinguish.
If you click on the "+" button, there's a voice recording of how to pronounce it. It's from the Taiwanese Ministry of Education. To me it sounds much more like "day" than "tea".
I ran it by my wife, as she's a native Spanish and English speaker, and she agrees with /e/ over /ai/.
Thanks for that link. Very cool site; reminds me of dict.leo.org for German.
I can hear a slight difference between the vowel sounds in both tê and day. That's something I always just attributed to accent, not a different vowel - but I suppose vowel changes can be very subtle.
So maybe that makes it more obvious why it would be easy to confuse /e/ and /eɪ/, especially when your native language only has the latter. Brain heuristics work regardless of whether you want them to or not, and they'll fill in the missing /ɪ/ even if it's not present.
The interesting thing here is that the old pronunciation of 茶(cha) was with a long vocal (chaa), whereas 叶(ye) was short and sounded like (ya)
That's Cyrillic alphabet, not Russian. Cyrillic is used in other languages as well. I was born in Serbia (which also uses Cyrillic) so I understood the punchline, even though I would hardly say I "read any Russian". It's more of a south and east Slavic thing than it is a Russian thing.
I sometimes find them hard to understand due to heavy usage of words with Italian roots. But their grammar is equivalent to Croatian grammar.
They also use the word "čaj".
I'd say Croatian as a language was popular and was heavily used on coastal areas even before Italian influence, and after too.