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What is the origin of the phrase 'square meal'?


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October 21, 2007 8:02PM

In Medieval times and later periods meals were often served on square wooden plates called Trenchers or platters, commonly known as a board. They were usually made out of a hardwood like maplewood so they didn't absorb the gravy & taint the next meal. There was a round groove lathe-cut into the centre of the board to hold the stew or gravy & often a small round groove drilled at the side of the platter to hold salt. You ate your meal with a knife & spoon, dipping meat into the salt. Where poor people may go without a meal often, sitting down to a proper meal on a board, (or 'square meal'), was a good thing - if you were getting your 3 square meals a day, you were doing very well for yourself. Just to confuse things, board also meant the dining table. There are naval links as well, square wooden trencher plates were used on-board ships as they didn't slide around as easily as circular plates, for sailors & press-ganged men they would have looked forward to a good square meal between their watches. If you went to an Inn for somewhere to sleep and food, you'd ask for 'bed & board'. Trencher is thought to originate from the French language where 'trancher' meant to cut, you'd cut the meat on your board. Before wooden trenchers came into common use, the trencher was made of bread, so that gravy soaked into the bread & you ate the plate as well, certainly saved on the washing up! See what they looked like at;