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Idiom: Nuncheon

Definition and usage of the word "nuncheon"

Nuncheon is a light snack around midmorning or midafternoon—think bread, cheese, cold meats, fruit, or just a drink to quench noonday thirst. Nunch refers to “light refreshment,” and shenche (or in this case cheon) refers to “a cupful, a drink.”

This word saw its last day in the Georgian era rather than beginning in the Georgian era as with some of our terms and idioms. Its origins are from 13th century England, and it remained in use for the same reference to a light snack all the way through the Victorian era, often shortened to “nunch.” It began its decline in 1880. Watch for its usage in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, as she makes direct reference to nuncheon!

A few words replaced nuncheon as we move forward in history, each with more specific intent than the all-encompassing nuncheon: luncheon, elevenses, and tea.

The word luncheon (not nuncheon) has been documented as early as the late 16th century, but it simply was not in use dialectically, at least not beyond the labourer’s usage. It was considered a vulgar term because it referred specifically to a large chunk/lump of meat. Our Georgian heroes and heroines would never have used this word. It was not until the 1880s that we see a rise in popularity, and then in 1900, it replaces all variations and becomes the most used term for a midday meal.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll still hear this word used in some regions of England.

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