"first meal of the day," mid-15c., from the verbal phrase; see break (v.) + fast (n.). For vowel shift, see below. An Old English word for it was undernmete (see undern), also morgenmete "morning meal."
Spanish almuerzo "lunch," but formerly and still locally "breakfast," is from Latin admorsus, past participle of admordere "to bite into," from ad "to" + mordēre "to bite" (see mordant). German Frühstück is from Middle High German vruostücke, literally "early bit."
In common with almuerzo, words for "breakfast" tend over time to shift in meaning toward "lunch;" compare French déjeuner "breakfast," later "lunch" (cognate of Spanish desayuno "breakfast"), from Vulgar Latin *disieiunare "to breakfast," from Latin dis- "apart, in a different direction from" + ieiunare, jejunare "fast" (see jejune; also compare dine). Greek ariston in Homer and Herodotus was a meal at the break of day but in classical times taken in the afternoon.
The long/short vowel contrast in break/breakfast represents a common pattern where words from Old English have a long vowel in their modern form but a short vowel as the first element of a compound: Christ/Christmas, holy/holiday, moon/Monday, sheep/shepherd, wild/wilderness, etc.
1670s, "to eat breakfast;" 1793 as "to supply with breakfast," from breakfast (n.). Related: Breakfasted; breakfasting.
updated on March 18, 2022