In the news · Word of the week

Word of the week: substantial

Over the last week there has been much debate here in the UK about the meaning of the phrase “a substantial meal”.

A second period of lockdown in England (during which most people seemed to go about their day-to-day business much as before) has been followed by a return to a system of “tiers” that dictate which businesses can reopen and how. In Tier 3 (which currently includes Manchester and Slough among other places) pubs remain closed. Here in London we are in Tier 2. Pubs have reopened but customers are only allowed to have a drink if they are eating “a substantial meal”. Government ministers failed to agree about what that entails. Some claimed that a scotch egg constitutes “a substantial meal”. Others decided that a scotch egg, or even two scotch eggs, could only be considered as a starter. One particularly smug, self-serving, mendacious cabinet minister (and I appreciate that doesn’t narrow it down by much) expressed both of these contradictory views over the course of a few hours.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “substantial” is “large in size, value, or importance”. By that definition, if scotch eggs are of special importance to you, you could describe them as substantial. Either way, I have never eaten a scotch egg in a pub, as a starter or otherwise.

During our time together my wife and I have disagreed fundamentally about what constitutes a meal, never mind a substantial one. I wrote about it in this piece in 2017, and still hold the views expressed there: “I do not believe that sushi constitutes a proper meal. Nor does tapas. Both of them make for a nice snack but neither of them contains enough actual food to justify the use of the word ‘meal’ … For her [my wife], and for many other women, lunch could be a bowl of soup and a roll. For me, soup and a roll is a starter. There has to be something else, even if it’s just a sandwich, or you’re skipping a meal.”


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