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The Spanish word merienda is often included in lists of untranslatable words. It originally meant the meal you had around noon between breakfast and dinner, as that meal used to be small compared with the other two. In some parts it is still used with that sense but since the 17th century it is almost always used for the small meal you have between lunch and dinner.

In Spain you usually have lunch around 2:00 PM and dinner around 9:00 PM, so at around 5:30 you need a small meal if you do not want to starve. That small meal is our merienda.

I would like to know if there are or there have been words in English to refer to a similar small meal you have between the main meals. I have looked up the word even in old dictionaries, but I think the translations refer to the old meaning of the word:

  • The Spanish-English dictionary by Richard Percyvall from 1591 translates the word as noonemeate (currently noonmeat), but that seems to be a synonym for lunch.
  • The Spanish-Latin-English dictionary by Iohannis Minshaei from 1617 translates the word as a Bever. That word is not present in the Oxford dictionary but seems to be related to beverage. Etymonline says its meaning could be "a drinking bout".
  • The closest word I can think of is US English snack: "a small amount of food eaten between meals" or "a light meal that is eaten in a hurry or in a casual manner".

So among every word the English language has produced everywhere and at every time, old and new, known or unknown, what would be the closest one to Spanish merienda?

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    As merienda no longer has a definitive meaning, it might be easily translated into English with an English term with an indefinite meaning; tea. Tea is often a small meal taken in the afternoon. – J. Taylor Nov 28 '18 at 10:03
  • @J.Taylor indeed! "A light afternoon meal consisting typically of tea to drink, sandwiches, and cakes." You could add that as an answer. – Charlie Nov 28 '18 at 10:12
  • I'm not sure there is a proper answer here. Instead of translating, one should use the local term. In my mind, explaining merienda is better than trying to translate it. – J. Taylor Nov 28 '18 at 10:17
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    as a side note, the term is present also in Italian as merenda but it has survived mainly to refer to mid-morning snack break that children have at primary schools. – user067531 Nov 28 '18 at 10:18
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    I don’t know if the word untranslatable so much as the culture and tradition embedded in that word. – gen-z ready to perish Nov 29 '18 at 6:06
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I think your question contains its answer: snack is both AE and BE, and the first example sentence reported by the Oxford Dictionary is

not many people make it through to the evening meal without a snack

which seems to reflect your definition quite perfectly: "at around 5:30 you need a small meal if you do not want to starve"

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    Maybe 'late afternoon snack' – chasly from UK Nov 29 '18 at 9:12
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I was surprised not to see tea in the answers until I saw it in the very first comment by J. Taylor.

Also, consider high tea though not a single word.

MW:

tea noun
4a : refreshments usually including tea with sandwiches, crackers, or cookies served in late afternoon

ODO:

tea
NOUN
3 [British] A light afternoon meal consisting typically of tea to drink, sandwiches, and cakes.

‘they were about to take afternoon tea’
[count noun] ‘picnic teas’

3.1 A cooked evening meal.

‘fish and chips for tea’

[count noun] ‘it reminds me of Sunday teas when I was a very small child’

high tea
NOUN [British]
A meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening, typically consisting of a cooked dish, bread and butter, and tea.

‘you sat down and had high tea’

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    Yes. What is understood by "tea" in Britain can vary considerably. The "posh" take "tea" as you describe - "afternoon tea" between lunch and dinner - sandwiches, cakes and tea (drunk with little finger extended). However many working-class people call the main evening meal "tea". The genteel talk about "high tea", where it contains a cooked element. The whole subject is confused by the fact that in pre-Victorian Britain "dinner", the main meal of the day was taken around noon. This persisted among the working classes in the 20th century and remains the case with many people today (continued). – WS2 Nov 28 '18 at 17:53
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    It was only when British people began to travel in Europe, that they noticed that the French and others took their main meal in the evening. Hence a word needed to be devised for the mid-day meal. "Luncheon", (or lunch) had previously been a snack taken mid-morning (and still is for some who call the mid-day meal "dinner"). The first OED entry for "luncheon" as a substantial meal in the early afternoon is in 1809. – WS2 Nov 28 '18 at 17:59
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    @WS2 I can confirm that some Americans use "lunch" for a mid-morning snack, "dinner" for a midday meal, and "supper" for an evening meal. Both "dinner" and "supper" were large meals, as those folks were farmers (and not the least bit bourgeois). I think that usage is highly regional, however. – Carl Kevinson Nov 28 '18 at 21:57
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    @CarlKevinson Yes. That is the old-fashioned working-class English nomenclature that I grew up with (also in a farming area), and which still persists with a lot of people. The exception would be supper. In our case we had breakfast, dinner (main meal abt 1.00pm, usually some form of meat - perhaps sausage, pudding for desert), tea (less-substantial e.g. fish & chips, or egg and baked beans on toast), and supper (snack e.g piece of cake and warm drink) before we went to bed. I'm talking here of the 1950s, and the message about economising on carbohydrates had not begun! – WS2 Nov 28 '18 at 22:42
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    @NMI That more or less follows the traditional British pattern, except the dainty session (in posh hotels, as you describe) would be "afternoon tea", and the hot meal in the evening "high tea". "Supper" - traditionally- is like yours. But bourgeois people often refer to the main evening meal as "supper", as they do in America. "Hight tea" as an expression is now quite dated. The only one that seems universally understood in the English-speaking world is "breakfast". – WS2 Feb 4 at 22:41
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Well, supper, for one. I believe it fits the context quite well.

Merriam Webster:

supper noun

sup·​per | \ˈsə-pər \

Definitions:

1a: the evening meal especially when dinner is taken at midday

b : a social affair featuring a supper especially: an evening social especially for raising funds

a church supper

2: the food served as a supper

'eat your supper'

3: a light meal served late in the evening

Oxford:

An evening meal, typically a light or informal one.

e.g.: ‘we had a delicious cold supper’

  • I've always considered supper to be a synonym for dinner. I don't think people in America typically eat dinner at midday. – Barmar Dec 4 '18 at 8:02
  • I don't really consider 5:30 as "midday" – Equinox Dec 4 '18 at 12:37
  • That's what I mean. We eat lunch at midday, the meal eaten between 5 and 7 is both supper and dinner. – Barmar Dec 4 '18 at 22:47
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After having lived in Spain for the last 14 year or so, I would classify it as rather an "early evening snack". I don't think it should be considered as afternoon tea or snack, barely on the fact, it is too late to call it afternoon! However, I will add that the"merienda" as such can be something sweet or savoury. enter image description here

  • Claridges serves 'late afternoon tea' up to 5:30, so if the OP's time is correct then it's not too late to be a 'late afternoon' tea claridges.co.uk/restaurants-bars/afternoon-tea – Pete Kirkham Nov 28 '18 at 16:11
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    Would you mind translating that spanish caption on your picture? – Wilson Nov 28 '18 at 16:20
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    uhhh what are we looking at – Azor Ahai Nov 28 '18 at 17:00
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    @Wilson the translation would be "We are already packing the hams you will receive this Christmas. They will arrive soon" – jmm Nov 28 '18 at 19:02
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    Spaniards seem to eat late because their clocks are wrong: lunch slightly after 2 p.m. and dinner after 9 p.m. is not so unreasonable when solar noon in Madrid is after 1 p.m. in winter and 2 p.m. in summer – Henry Nov 28 '18 at 21:02
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There are small meals between lunch and dinner, these are called "Dunch" which is a combination of Lunch and Dinner. (It can also be called "Linner")

If you eat a meal between breakfast and lunch it is called brunch, which is more well known.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/dunch https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/submission/545/linner

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    IME brunch is eaten instead of breakfast and lunch rather than between them. – Timbo Nov 29 '18 at 0:07
  • Sometimes, but with these terms I picture them as "social" events more than eating habits. Some people having already eating breakfast, may eat brunch to catch up with their friends or relatives. – Holly Plyler Nov 29 '18 at 16:32
  • Fair point! In any case, the most important part of brunch is the mimosas or bloody maries. – Timbo Nov 29 '18 at 20:04

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