meal (n.1)

late 12c., mēl, "an occasion of taking food, a feast, a supply of food taken at one time for relief of hunger," also (c. 1200) "an appointed time for eating;" from Old English mæl, Anglian mēl, "fixed time, occasion; a meal," from Proto-Germanic *mela- (source also of Old Frisian mel "time;" Middle Dutch mael, Dutch maal "time; meal;" Old Norse mal "measure, time, meal;" German Mal "time," Mahl "meal;" Gothic mel "time, hour"), from PIE *me-lo-, from root *me- (2) "to measure."

Original sense of "time" is preserved in English in piecemeal; compare Middle English poundmele "by pounds at a time; generously." Meals-on-wheels for a social service offering home delivery of food to persons unable to purchase or prepare their own is attested by 1952 (from 1947 as a mobile food delivery service without reference to social services). Meal ticket first attested 1865 in literal sense of "ticket of admission to a dining hall;" figurative sense of "source of income or livelihood" is from 1899.

meal (n.2)

"the edible part of ground grain;" Middle English mēle, from Old English melu, from Proto-Germanic *melwan "grind" (source also of Old Frisian mele "meal," Old Saxon melo, Middle Dutch mele, Dutch meel, Old High German melo, German Mehl, Old Norse mjöl "meal;" literally "what is ground;" Old Saxon, Old High German, Gothic malan, German mahlen "to grind"), from PIE root *mele- "to crush, grind." The verb form is not found in Old English. Forms with an -a- begin in late Middle English. "Now commonly understood to exclude the product of wheat (this being called FLOUR)" [OED].

updated on September 28, 2020