Imagine a situation where you've been invited to dinner at a friend's place. You're extremely hungry but you learn that the dinner won't be ready for another half an hour. So you decide to eat an apple or a bite of bread or some other small thing which will not satisfy your hunger fully, but will temporarily make it more tolerable. Is there a word/phrase/idiom to describe this small snack prior to a big meal?

The Russian equivalent of what I am looking for is заморить червячка, which literally means to starve/kill the little worm. The only translation I found of this idiom was to stay one's hunger. However, I couldn't find any usage examples of it and the google query for define:to stay one's hunger doesn't return anything useful, so I guess this idiom, if used at all, isn't very common.

4 Answers 4


To stay one's hunger is perfectly acceptable, and not at all uncommon (though it's actually more likely to be "stay your appetite"). Less common, and with less of a "temporarily" sense, would be assuage one's hunger. But I think probably the most common idiomatic usage is...

Here - have a sandwich to stave off your hunger until dinnertime.

...which my mother used to say to me when I was a child. Perhaps this one gains traction by alliteration / association with both stay and starve.

to stave off
to fend off, to ward off (something adverse) Merriam-Webster

(To metaphorically repel / drive away using a stave = staff = stick.)

  • Thank you very much for your answer. Stave off seems to be it, although as I understand it, it's not necessarily connected to hunger. The funny thing is that this question arose exactly when I was reading the definition and usage examples of assuage :) Feb 19, 2012 at 16:24
  • @Armen Tsirunyan: Yes, to stave off [something] can be used in many contexts. Usually, but not necessarily, it implies temporarily. AFAIK it always implies temporarily in relation to hunger, so when you arrive at the dinner party the hostess may say, for example, "There are peanuts and other nibbles to stave off your hunger until we sit down and eat" Feb 19, 2012 at 16:30
  • We used to say "That hit the spot" when I was growing up in Illinois. Feb 19, 2012 at 17:39
  • 3
    @John Lawler: It's also common in the UK. But the hostess certainly wouldn't say "Have some nibbles to hit the spot while I prepare dinner" Feb 19, 2012 at 17:44
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Attending Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953, Queen Salote of Tonga, all 6'2" of her, defied the inclement weather and insisted on riding in an open carriage to acknowledge the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd lining the route. She was accompanied by a shrimp of a minder from the FO who was half her size. BBC TV memorably recorded Noel Coward's quip when asked by his co-commentator, "Who's that with Queen Salote? "Her lunch," he replied. Oct 16, 2016 at 8:52

Although I see this has already been answered, I was surprised not to see 'tide you over' in the discussion.

After doing a little research, I see that this idiom is commonly used in situations like money lending: "I was flat broke, so he lent me $200 to tide me over until my next paycheck."

However, in my family we used it exclusively in situations like you described - and it was indeed often an apple I would eat to tide me over until dinner!


I think you may be describing having an appetizer.

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines:

Appetizer ap·​pe·​tiz·​er | \ ˈa-pə-ˌtī-zər \

1: a food or drink that stimulates the appetite and is usually served before a meal The appetizers included shrimp with cocktail sauce, vegetables and dips, cheeses, and fruits.



"To take the edge off" seems to fit.

take the edge off (something) - To make something less intense, severe, or unpleasant.

  • We won't be having lunch for another hour, but if you're hungry now, I've got some snacks to take the edge off.

I've also heard "tide someone over", as in "here, have a cookie. It should tide you over until dinner."

from TFD - "To maintain, sustain, or support someone through a lean or difficult time until more of something is acquired, typically food or money.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.