Parlor or Living Room? Supper or Dinner? What the Heck?

 

Blame my curious mind for this post. When did people start calling a parlor or drawing room a living room?

First, let’s start with the meaning.

PARLOR – A sitting room in a private house where the family received visitors. This is a dated word that we no longer use in this context but was the common term until the 1900s. It was known as the “death room” and was where families laid out dead relatives as was common practice in times past. I can’t imagine this! CREEPY! And they took pictures of the dead people in their casket!! Double CREEPY!

 

DRAWING ROOM – An archaic word for a very formal sitting room and could be upstairs or the main floor where a person entertained visitors.

RECEPTION ROOM – Usually refers to a hotel, churches or anyplace besides a private home.

LIVING ROOM – An informal setting in a private home where the family welcomes visitors.

 

So, when did a parlor become a living room?

Inquiring minds want to know. It all changed by the end of World War I when funeral homes started taking care of the dead and they started calling the place where they set the caskets funeral parlors.

In 1910, the Ladies Home Journal came out with an article changing home parlors to living rooms. It’s an informal space where families gather and hang out. It became a “Lively” room and no more dedicated to death.

Large houses sometimes have more than one—both a formal and an informal.

 

Now…When did supper change to dinner?

The Merriam and Webster Dictionary says the last meal of the day changed names with the rise of industrialization and workers were not home for the midday meal they called dinner. (Psst, I still do by the way.) Thus, dinner slid to the last meal of the day and lunch became the noontime meal.

But…Is it an uppity thing? I never hear rich folks say supper. So, was it was a division between those who had and those who had less? 

Whatever the reason was, I just want to point out that the Bible says the Lord’s supper – not the Lord’s dinner.

Now, what’s for dessert? I’m hungry and I might eat in the living room.

So what are your thoughts on all this? Do you have a parlor or living room? Eat supper or dinner?

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!! Hope you’re wearing green!

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!
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54 thoughts on “Parlor or Living Room? Supper or Dinner? What the Heck?”

  1. Happy St. Patrick’s Day Linda.
    I still call it supper, I guess it’s a Texas Thing! Ha ha!
    Dinner to me means lunch, although I usually call it lunch.
    That’s a great question about parlor vs living room.
    I think of a parlor as very formal, because I don’t have one, I have a living room that’s very informal. Ha ha!
    I hope you have a great day and St. Patty guided your hand while typing down the home stretch of Gracie and Deacon’s book!
    Love you my Sister friend.

    • Good morning, Miss Tonya……I think most people in this day and age call it a living room. Ice cream parlors, funeral parlors, beauty parlors and the like have completely different meanings. Yes, St. Paddy must be helping me out. Ha! I need all the help I can get! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m wearing green. Love you dearly.

  2. Hello Linda. I loved this article. It really got me to thinking. I work for the Amish and they still say “supper” instead of “dinner”. This used to confuse me until I learned what they meant.

    And I do still take pictures of the dead in their caskets. I want to have that as a momento as the final goodbye to someone I loved. But I only take a picture if it was family or close friend.

    Have a Happy St. Paddy’s Day. (I forgot my green) ?

    • Good morning, Dale! Wow, thank you for coming. I always love seeing you. It does all get confusing. I say supper and the noon meal is dinner or lunch. Some people do want a picture of their loved one who’s passed but not me. I’ll remember them alive and living a good life. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Definitely not. Each person has their own customs. My grandmother had triplets and two only lived a few hours. The third lived a couple of days. She had a picture taken of the live one laying with the two dead babies. I can hardly bear to look at the picture. Happy Wearing of the Green!!

    • Good morning, Miss Jerri! Oh my goodness, it’s great to see you. Your comment made me laugh. Yep, sure don’t want to miss any meals. A lot of people are eating in the living room in front of the TV these days so I have a feeling all this is about to change again. Sigh. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🙂

  3. Hi Linda,
    Hre’s another tidbit for you. There are some who call the living room the front room. Most likely as with “shotgun” houses it is the room at the very front of the house.
    Way back in Regency times (or before that??) Lunch was referred to as Nuncheon. Ref. Georgette Heyer’s novels set in the 18th century England.
    P.S. that is with an nun at the beginning in case auto correct changes my spelling again.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Good morning, Janie…..Thanks for coming. I had forgotten that some people call the living room the front room. So true. My mom and dad called it that. Strange I would’ve forgotten. I agree about the Regencies and Nuncheon for the noon meal. That was such an odd term to me. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Good morning, Janine! I’m so glad you liked my post. There are so many words for things I can barely keep track of them. Our world is constantly changing. And too, it depends on what part of the country you live as to what these rooms are named. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  4. I still call the noon time meal “dinner” most of the time. Lunch is also used when it is not a formal meal here. Supper is the only word for the evening meal time in this house. Haha!

    • Good morning, Susan……I’m happy to see you. We seem to have the same preferences. And I was thinking this shift in terms might be an age thing. I rarely hear a young person say supper. Have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

  5. Happy St. Patrick’s day to you too! I sometimes call the evening meal supper and somes dinner. I’ll have to pay more attention to why I do that. I always call the midday meal lunch though but I’m sure that’s because of my age. All my grandparents stopped calling the midday meal dinner because it confused all us grandkids. I’m wondering if it’s because at school it was called lunch.

    • Good morning, Steph! I’m so glad you came. Now that I think about it, this controversy over names of rooms and meals might be an age thing. Could be. Young people have their own ideas and I’m sure they don’t want to be seen as some old fuddy-duddy with their friends. I hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day. I have my green on! Love you, lady.

    • Good morning, Debra…….Words and connotations are always changing it seems like. And so many people eat in the living room these days, dining rooms might disappear altogether. I still need to eat at a table. I hate trying to balance a plate on my lap! And a TV tray isn’t much better. Have a fun St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Good morning, Miss Jess….Thanks for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure. Words are always changing and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Hope the writing is going well. I still have your book and I plan to read it. 🙂

    • We have breakfast, lunch and dinner at my house. Nothing formal here. Thank you for sharing. Happy St. Patrick’s day Linda

      • Good morning, Charlene…..I’m so happy to see you. Thanks so much for coming and sharing your preferences. Whatever you call your meals, I hope the food satisfies. Everyone has certain words for things. I completely forgot about Dens when talking about the rooms. I never hear that anymore. Happy St. Paddy’s Day!!

  6. Happy St Patricks Day Linda ?? I always get laughed at when I say supper verses dinner . I was raised dinner was lunch and supper is evening meal . BUT I’m informed all the time it’s dinner . I don’t care what you call it as long as I eat !!

    I have a friend who bought an old house that was used to view bodies. Every door had a insert sliding door to close door to separate viewing rooms . He calls that room his Parlor, I call it creepy!!
    I’m definitely wearing green today ?

    • Good morning, Rose Ann! Great to see you. I don’t get laughed at when I say supper but I do get weird looks and sometimes when I’m with people I don’t know well, I’ll call the evening meal dinner. I don’t know why I do that. I guess I don’t want to appear strange. Wow, your friend’s house probably has ghosts! Those old houses creak and moan. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  7. Love this post… and your parlor picture. We always called the last meal of the day supper, even though my mother tried at some point, but failed, to get us to call it dinner. And we often called our living room the “front room”. Don’t know where that came from except to say that we were a farming family.

    • Good morning, Anne! Great to see you. I hope you’re doing well and writing, writing. I can imagine your mother’s frustration. 🙂 My mom and dad also called the living room the “front” room. I don’t know where that came from either unless it was because a lot of houses back then were the “shotgun” style. That could explain it. I hope you have a very lovely St. Patrick’s Day!

  8. I call it both, supper and dinner. We have a living room, not a parlor. Two of my sister’s have both a formal living room and an informal one. The formal ones are rarely used!

    • Hi, Miss Trudy…..I’m so glad you came. I know the purpose of having a formal living room is that it’s usually kept clean and saves embarrassment when unexpected people visit but I see them as wasted space. One day they’ll probably cease putting them in houses. Have a lovely day of wearing green. 🙂

  9. Interesting post! I’ve wondered about these things myself but never taken time to look them up. We call the noon meal lunch and use dinner and supper interchangeably for the evening meal. The living room is where we spend most of our time – watching TV, playing games, talking, etc. But no eating in the living room except for the occasional snack. We have little kids who would ruin everything and we also don’t want the habit of watching TV instead of talking at meal times. As for photos of dead people, no thanks. I have relatives who do that but I can barely handle viewing the casket once, much less seeing a photo of it over and over. People think it’s odd because I was a nurse for many years until I became a stay at home mom, but I do not handle dead bodies well. Anyway, thanks again for the fun post and happy St. Paddy’s Day!

    • Hi Christy…..Thanks for coming by. I don’t like a TV on when I’m eating. When my kids were growing up we always ate at the table. I think it’s important. I don’t think you’re a bit odd in regards to the dead. Let’s let them go.

  10. Hi Linda! We always called our living room that–the living room, and we had a room at the back of the house we called the den. (where the tv was!) We usually called our evening meal supper, but sometimes dinner–It was interchangeable at our house, but mostly supper, and for lunch we called it lunch. I love learning what words people used growing up for different things. Great post! HAPPY ST. PADDY’S DAY! XOXO

    • Cheryl, I loved your comment. I always thought the last house I lived in was odd because it had the living room at the back of the house and the kitchen was the first room off the entry. Everything seemed backward. I never had a den so I guess that’s why I forgot about them.

  11. Such a neat post, Linda! Thank you for sharing it with us. We had a living room (which was more like a parlor because Mom liked it to be ready for unexpected guests) then we had a family room where we all tended to gather at the end of the day. There was a TV and fireplace there. I spent many happy hours reading by the fire during the cold days of winter.
    My parents always called the evening meal supper. I started calling it dinner in college, and use the two terms interchangeably.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

    • Hi Shanna, it was the custom of many to have a clean room when unexpected guests showed up. I wasn’t fortunate enough for that. Our living room was the family room and we were expected to help keep it clean. Mom taught us early to pick up after ourselves and keep things neat. Strange that you started calling the evening meal dinner when you were in college. I suspect it was what your friends called it and you didn’t want to be the odd man out.

  12. the largest meal of the day is dinner–it used to be the noonday meal–and supper is only used for an evening meal. my Southern grandma would only call the noonday meal dinner and the evening meal supper.

    FWIW, my family has been known to take photos of loved ones in the open casket.

    • Hi Denise, thank you for coming. Bless your Southern grandma’s heart! That was the norm in her day. Every family has a custom about the dead. It’s not for me to judge. I would feel very uncomfortable doing it. Have a lovely day and stay well.

  13. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
    We always had a living room. Then we (the collective we) started building bigger houses again, but the new room where the family hung out became the family room not living room. We have an 1898 victorian farm house and have that extra room in the front of the house. We call it a parlor more often than not, but don’t really entertain company in it. We use the family room for that. It is a large, open room that incorporates the kitchen. Now that is considered a great room which I guess will replace the term parlor and living room at some point. The parlor serves as an office and library. Library is kind of a misnomer because that would be the entire house. The only room that doesn’t have bookcases lining the walls is the master bedroom. Even the hallways are lined with bookcases. The bathrooms have reading material, if not bookcases.
    As for dinner/supper, it depends what kind of a mood I am in. Usually, supper is only a meal eaten at night. Dinner is the big meal of the day whether it is eaten at midday or evening.
    Please stay safe and healthy.

    • Hi Patricia, your house sounds lovely. I’d love to see it but I can’t see me traveling that far. You’re the first one to say you have an actual parlor but it would be kinda weird to call it a living room in a house that old. I’d give anything to see your bookcases. Bet I’d find a good many of my favorites. I used to have a friend that lined every wall of her house with bookshelves. Even her bathroom. She used to joke that they held her roof up. She was probably right. The house was kinda rickety.

  14. Our family called the largest meal of the day dinner. So, on Sunday, we had Sunday dinner about one (after church) but weekdays we had dinner in the evening when my dad came home from work.

    • Thank you so much for coming, Caroline! Great to see you. The name of the meal depended on the day of the week. 🙂 That could get a little confusing when talking to people outside the family but I’m sure you worked it all out just fine. Have a lovely day.

  15. Not sure how I missed your post yesterday. I am not sure where dinner came from myself because dinner here is at lunch time and it is supper for my evening meal. Maybe its a southern thing that we call it supper and not dinner.

  16. So I have never lived in a house that had a formal parlor until I became a nanny, that space wasn’t used unless there was a death, or celebration of some kind.
    Growing up, when we went to grandma Funk house dinner was the noontime meal, and then we had supper. At my house it was lunch then dinner. We did have Sunday Dinner after church each week.

  17. I still call supper, supper. It’s the way I was raised, and because we lived in a small town and could get home for the mid-day meal, that was our big meal. Then we just snacked or ate leftovers in the evening. I think it was definitely healthier that way, though, diet specialists will tell you it doesn’t matter when you take in the calories, during the day or in the evening.

    • Hi Hebby, I’m glad to see you. A lot of people have started eating lighter meals for supper and I’m one of them. I just don’t want anything heavy to sit on my stomach and I can’t sleep with a full stomach. Makes me so uncomfortable. I hope you have a lovely day.

  18. Hi Linda. Hope you had a fun St Patricks Day. I stayed home, so no I didn’t wear green. This is an interesting post. We have a “family room” (where the family hangs out) and a “front room” (where we entertain etc). Also we eat “dinner”
    It is interesting how in different areas different things and sayings are used.

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