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In the original English edition of Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883) this passage appears:

At last in strode the captain, slammed the door behind him, without looking to the right or left, and marched straight across the room to where his breakfast awaited him.

The Spanish translation La isla del tesoro (Manuel Caballero, 1886) renders it this way:

Por último entró el Capitán, empujó la puerta tras de sí, sin ver á izquierda ni á derecha, y marchó directamente, á través del cuarto, hacia donde le esperaba su almuerzo.

Why would 'breakfast' be translated as "almuerzo" (lunch) instead of "desayuno"? Is this a mistake, or is there some logical explanation for it?

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The names and times of the meals vary pretty substantially, making a true one-to-one (or even panhispanic) correspondence impossible.

In Spain, for instance, you may have desayuno around 8:00a, followed by almuerzo around 11:00a, followed by comida at 2:00p, with merienda around 6:00p, and cena around 9:00p.

In other countries, these will vary in number, size, time, and content of the meals, and of course, given that your translation is from 1886, we'd also need to take into account historical uses of these words. The RAE actually notes that almuerzo can basically take place anytime until early afternoon:

almuerzo. 1. m. Comida que se toma por la mañana. 2. m. Comida del mediodía o primeras horas de la tarde. […]

This is somewhat differenced with desayuno, which is defined as the very first thing you eat in the morning — which may or may not be an actual meal:

desayuno 1. m Alimento ligero que se toma por la mañana antes que ningún otro […]

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  • But it is still a bit odd because the English original is surely assuming that the meal eaten was the first of the day - hence desayuno would be a closer fit. – Francis Davey May 23 '15 at 19:00
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    @FrancisDavey That's presuming it's the first thing eaten — if he's already in dress, he may have had an apple or similar. Also, in the Diccionario de Autoridades (from about a hundred years prior) we have almuerzo: El primer alimento que se come por la mañána, y con el qual uno dexa de estar ayúno, por lo que tambien sellama desayúno. Regularmente suele ser de cosa ligéra y en poca cantidád – user0721090601 May 23 '15 at 19:06
  • That is interesting - perhaps you could note something about the changing meaning or usage of almuerzo (if I have understood you correctly) in your answer? In other languages "breakfast" words have come to mean lunch (eg dejeuner in French). – Francis Davey May 23 '15 at 19:28
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    When I hear someone use almuerzo, I'm not always sure what they mean, since I've heard it used for breakfast, lunch and also morning snack. – MikMik Jun 2 '15 at 7:07
  • +1 for noting the lack of panhispanic correspondence. – Paul Apr 10 '16 at 0:10
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The answer is that when the translation was done, back in 1886, almuerzo and desayuno were synonyms, and you could use either one to mean 'breakfast'.

If you check the NTTLE (link and images below) you can see that their definition in the official dictionary was as follows:

  • DESAYUNO. The first food you eat in the morning. Jentaculum.
  • ALMUERZO. The food you eat in the morning. Jentaculum.

Same definition and same translation to Latin.
We can even check the older Diccionario de Autoridades where it explicitly says so:

  • ALMUERZO. The first food you eat in the morning, by means of which you end your ayuno [fast], hence it also being called desayuno [breakfast].

So both words were synonyms as you can see. Their meanings diverged through the years and, for today's speakers, each word means a different meal; but back in 1886 you could translate 'breakfast' as desayuno or almuerzo, whichever you liked the most.


La respuesta es que cuando se hizo la traducción de la obra, en 1886, almuerzo y desayuno eran sinónimos a todos los efectos, y se podía usar indistintamente una u otra.

Lo podemos comprobar en la edición de 1852 del diccionario de la Academia (imágenes extraídas del NTTLE):

DESAYUNO. m. El primer alimento que se toma por la mañana. _Jentaculum_.

ALMUERZO. m. La comida que se toma por la mañana. _Jentaculum_.

Nótese que ambas aparecen traducidas al latín como jentaculum.

Si nos remontamos al Diccionario de Autoridades de 1726, lo dice incluso explícitamente:

ALMUERZO. s.m. El primer alimento que se come por la mañana, y con el cual uno deja de estar ayuno, por lo que también se llama desayuno.

Resumiendo: ambas palabras eran inicialmente sinónimas. Poco a poco se han ido diferenciando y, para los hablantes de hoy en día, son comidas distintas; pero en 1886 parece que esta distinción todavía no estaba muy establecida, por lo que 'breakfast' podía traducirse como "desayuno" o como "almuerzo" a gusto del traductor.

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  • Lovely documentation. // I thought the noun was ayuna? "End your ayuno" looks funny to me. Maybe the masculine works too, though, so I'm not editing that. // For the last sentence -- I agree with some others who've pointed out that there's some regional and age variation in this -- for some people, el almuerzo IS the first thing eaten in the day. – aparente001 May 23 '18 at 22:44
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Just my 2 cents:

Speaking of Mexico, at least in my specific region; both words "almuerzo" and "desayuno" are equally used to make reference to the first meal of the day.

What I have seen is that "almuerzo" is frequently used by our elder people; while younger generations rather use "desayuno".

I remember my grandfather used to say "Ya vamos a almorzar", and it sounded hell of funny to me...given that I grew up with "desayuno".

It's just a cultural preference.

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I am prone to say it is a mistake or lack of rigor in the translation. In my whole life, I have never heard nor read the word almuerzo used interchangeably with desayuno. It is worth noting that if it were a swap between cena and comida, it wouldn't seem so out of place.

I think it is also interesting to think how many of these changes might have occurred and no one noticed.

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