Miss Manners: Please come for supper (but eat something first)

May 24, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Are the terms “supper” and “dinner” synonyms? Is there a time when supper becomes a dinner or vice versa?

GENTLE READER: It has more to do with what else you are eating that day, although you will be relieved to hear that no one is checking how often you snack.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, not so long ago in Miss Manners’s mind, the main meal was eaten during the day. Then it became fashionable to have the heavy meal at night, so luncheon took the place of dinner, and dinner took the place of supper. Supper was sent away from the table.

But did it slink off to its room? No, it sneaked out to go drinking and dancing. Supper clubs became the rage, for late-night dining and worse. And to this day, meals served late at night and connected with formal occasions, such as balls, are called suppers.

Yet the humbler meaning survives. “We’d love to have you come by for supper” means, “Don’t expect a dinner party.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an antiques preservator, and recently single. My ex died in October; I was faithful to her until the end, as she was to me. It was clear that we had too many deep-seated differences to remarry.

But now things are different. I have gone to church with two ladies most all of our lives; we are all in our 50s. But still we really don’t know much about each other.

The first lady is my late ex’s cousin. I restored a set of living room tables for her, as a gift for the chance to feel her out, so to speak, in her own house. I found that there were family or clan behaviors in her manner that I have a hard time agreeing with.

The second lady I gave a handmade 1930s gate-leg table, in order to have innocent contact with her to see what makes her tick. From the thanks I got from her, she has no earthly idea as to the worth of the table.

I had it appraised at the best consignment shop in town that caters to more high-end customers. I don’t know if indeed she does like it or not. Should I tell the worth of it? Suggest she have it appraised herself? Or leave it alone?

GENTLE READER: Please forgive Miss Manners for thinking that this question would turn out to be more interesting than it did. All that intriguing background about your romantic ties, and all you need to know is how to alert someone that your present is worth more than she seems to think.

It’s a perfectly legitimate question, and Miss Manners wouldn’t have been able to evaluate your prospects for you, anyway.

Of course, no gentleman would tell the price of a present he gave. But you could say, “You might think of insuring that, in which case you should have it appraised.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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