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Dinner is a word used with different, overlapping meanings; it is often the name given to the main meal of the day, or sometimes to the noon, early afternoon or evening meal, regardless of its relative size. Depending upon culture, dinner may actually be the first, second, third or fourth meal of the day. Historically, it referred to the first meal of the day, eaten around noon, and is still occasionally used for a noontime meal, if it is a large or main meal; the meaning as the evening meal is becoming increasingly common in the English-speaking world.
Originally, dinner referred to the first meal of a two-meal day, a heavy meal occurring about noon, which broke the night's fast in the new day. The word is from the Old French (ca 1300) disner, meaning "breakfast", from the stem of Gallo-Romance desjunare ("to break one's fast"), from Latin dis- ("undo") + Late Latin ieiunare ("to fast"), from Latin ieiunus ("fasting, hungry"). The Romanian word "dejun" and the French "déjeuner" retain this etymology and to some extent the meaning (whereas the Spanish word "desayuno" and Portuguese "desjejum" are related but are exclusively used for breakfast). Eventually, the term shifted to referring to the heavy main meal of the day, even if it had been preceded by a breakfast meal—or even both breakfast and lunch, as in current usage.
Which meal is it? 
In most modern usages, the term dinner now refers to the evening meal, which is now often the most significant meal of the day in English-speaking cultures. When using this meaning, the preceding meals are usually referred to as breakfast and lunch. In some areas, the tradition of using dinner to mean the most important meal of the day regardless of time of day leads to a variable name for meals depending on the combination of their size and the time of day, while in others meal names are fixed based on the time they are consumed. However, even in systems in which dinner is the meal usually eaten at the end of the day, an individual dinner may still refer to a main or more sophisticated meal at any time in the day, such as a banquet, feast, or a special meal eaten on a Sunday. In parts of the rural American South and northern England, the word "dinner" traditionally has been used for the midday meal even if it was a light snack taken to school or work (and not for supper). The (lighter) meal following dinner has traditionally been referred to as "supper" or tea, though middle- and northern- English people still often refer to a large evening meal as tea, with "dinner" being reserved for the noontime meal.
In Europe the fashionable hour for dinner began to be incrementally postponed during the 18th century, to two and three in the afternoon, until at the time of the First French Empire an English traveler to Paris remarked upon the "abominable habit of dining as late as seven in the evening".
"Dinner" sometimes denotes a formal meal where people who dine together are formally dressed and consume food with an array of utensils. Dinners are often divided into three or more courses. Appetizers consisting of options such as soup, salad etc., followed by the main course then the dessert.
See also 
- "When do we eat? A survey of meal times"
- (October/November 2001.) "What time is dinner?" History Magazine. Accessed September 2011.
- etymology of "dinner" from Online Dictionary. Accessed Nov. 11, 2009.
- Etymology of "dine" from Online Dictionary. Accessed Nov. 11, 2009.
- Quote in Ian Kelly, Cooking for Kings: the life of Antonin Carême the first celebrity chef, 2003:78. For guests of Talleyrand at the Château de Valençay, dinner under Carême was even later.
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