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I would love to know the different meanings of "tea" in current usage in the U.K. I know that it can be the usual lovely cream tea one takes at four, while at the same time it means a light dinner around 5 or 5:30. I wonder about different class meaning of the expression.

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In West Yorkshire, where I grew up, "tea" is the main evening meal, so we have breakfast/dinner/tea rather than breakfast/lunch/dinner. The same is true, I think, of most of the North of England.

I'm gradually learning to describe the middle meal as "lunch" when talking to the rest of the world, but it's a hard habit to break.

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  • Interesting - in most of the urban US, it's breakfast/lunch/dinner (or sometimes breakfast/lunch/supper - "dinner" has a connotation of formality - we never "go out to supper", for instance); in the South and in some rural areas, it's breakfast/dinner/supper. Since most television/radio programming is produced in cities (where we eat "lunch"), the use of b/l/d has been gradually disappearing since the 1930s or so. I'm curious: 1) is there a regional difference between the North of England and, say, London; 2) if so, has the London variant been pushing out the Northern variant?
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 18:02
  • You are correct - there is a regional difference between North and South, but it's also a cultural difference, in the sense that northerners wanting to appear more cultured tend to adopt the southern b/l/d naming scheme (and it's not always vanity - rather it's about adapting to your audience). I suspect the rise in the last half century of television and national supermarket chains has diminished regional language variations, but I'm not a sociolgist.
    – njd
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 20:33
  • Kraft has marketed "Lunchables" to schoolchildren (extremely successfully!) since the late 1980s; I suspect that that's done more to establish "lunch" as the midday meal (in the minds of Generation X onward, anyway) than anything that came before.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 21:08
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    "tea" is the main evening meal for most people in Scotland I would say - here in the Central Belt at any rate. To my ears "dinner" is a more formal occasion. We still have lunch in the middle of the day though.
    – AAT
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 21:43
  • The breakfast/dinner/tea usage is more of a class difference than a regional one, I think. My father was brought up in Devon and Kent and my mother in Herefordshire but both of them referred to the midday meal as "dinner" and the evening one as "tea". I grew up in Derbyshire and even the schools referred to the midday meal as "dinner". I suspect that this is fairly general since no one talked about "lunch money" when physical cash had to be provided and, so far as I know, no one talked about "free school lunches" either.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 6:52
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Check out high tea.

The Wikipedia page for tea (meal) probably contains your answer.

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