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I've heard that breakfast is the first meal of the day, but I have also heard it is a meal in the morning. Lunch I understand to be the meal that takes place between eleven and one. Assuming I do not eat anything until eleven, when I finally eat, is it considered breakfast because it is the first meal of the day, or is it lunch because it takes place during lunch's time slot?

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What did you find in your dictionary searches? –  GEdgar Jul 6 '12 at 19:10
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Many people (myself included) don't eat anything for quite some time after getting up. Regardless of this Wikipedia definition, we usually call that first meal (which could be any time between, say, 11:00 and 16:00) brunch. –  FumbleFingers Jul 6 '12 at 19:14

4 Answers 4

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It is a combination of time slot and sequence. The main meal of the day is dinner, which can be eaten at midday or evening, depending on circumstances.

dinner, n. 'The chief meal of the day, eaten originally, and still by the majority of people, about the middle of the day (cf. German Mittagsessen), but now, by the professional and fashionable classes, usually in the evening'

If dinner is in the evening, the midday meal becomes lunch, though traditionally it could be at anytime. The defining characteristic being that it was not the main meal.

If dinner is midday, the evening meal can be lunch, or tea if it a very light (possibly uncooked) meal. The concept with 'tea' is that the food is an accompaniment for the cup of tea.

There are regional variations though. Australians seem to see tea as quite a heavy meal in the evening, and I have been told that Jamaicans refer l the first meal of day as tea.

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If you ever worked night shift or rotating shift you will realize that breakfast can happen anytime. You get up, you eat breakfast, you go to work, partway through your shift you eat lunch, then you go home, and finish with dinner.

The time of day is immaterial in this case.

I have known coworkers who start work at 04:00 so they each lunch at 08:00, before the last of the "day shift workers" have arrived.

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I don't think either is definitive. If I wake up jetlagged at 7pm, I can have breakfast cereal, in which case I'd say I'm having breakfast; or I can whatever everyone else is eating, in which case I'd say I'm having dinner. In both cases, the nature of the food consumed seems to determine what you call the meal (breakfasty things make it a breakfast, dinnery things make it a dinner). That said, the nature of the food also isn't decisive, as you can have breakfast cereal for dinner (as a friend of mine, growing up in a house without much food, was sometimes forced to do).

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I've never heard of calling a meal according to what's being served. That would really mess up my day, where I might have (leftover) pizza for breakfast and pancakes for supper. Or in your case, the other way around. This seems super-confusing. –  tchrist Jul 6 '12 at 21:02
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In the States, I get the impression that pizza for breakfast is something of a ritual. My in-laws, who are German, have pancakes for dinner. I like fish for breakfast, which some people find weird. Needless to say, this is all culture-dependent. But, in the jetlag scenario, I'm sticking to my guns. –  Daniel Harbour Jul 6 '12 at 21:05
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I've heard of this. A restaurant near here has a sign: "Breakfast all day"--meaning you can get fried eggs or pancakes at any time of day. –  GEdgar Jul 7 '12 at 0:25
    
@tchrist: It is confusing; I think that's Daniel's point. That said, I think pizza for breakfast is always "pizza for breakfast;" and considered a delicacy in some parts of the world (like computer labs). –  J.R. Jul 7 '12 at 10:14

This is really regional and has changed during the ages. For example, the midday meal was always called "dinner" in the farming area I grew up in (sometimes you will still hear this, though it's dying out now), and the evening meal was called supper.

Then there's the Hobbit dining plan - breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses...

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All food terms are extremely regional. People talk about what they eat and how they eat it differently everywhere. FF is right that eating the first meal of the day (to break one's fast) is breakfast. However we can also say it's brunch, or that we skipped breakfast and ate an early lunch, or that we like to eat breakfast at supper (if, for instance, one eats bacon and eggs, or chilaquiles, or congee, or some other typical breakfast food for the main meal). And I won't even discuss people on different work and sleep schedules. Moral: Don't trust dictionaries for cultural terms. –  John Lawler Jul 6 '12 at 19:21
    
I've actually noticed elevenses & second breakfast gaining traction in popular culture (due to the Lord of the Rings movie series, I presume). A second bowl of cereal can be second breakfast; a very late bowl of cereal could be eleveses. Technically, I suppose, if that late bowl of cereal is your first meal – the one where you break fast – that would be brunch instead of elevenses. As the others have said, though, such "technicalities" tend to get bent from time to time – especially when 14-year-olds see an opportunity to drop the word elevenses on their parents, and grab it. –  J.R. Jul 7 '12 at 10:10

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