Let’s do breakfast!

Sometimes, in order to cut a long story short, I have to tell my students something I know isn’t true. 

A textbook activity had the standard format of a box with base-form verbs at the top, then sentences with a gap in each, with the instruction to choose the right verb and change it to the right verb tense. One sentence included breakfast, and one student chose the verb do. I said “We don’t do breakfast. What do we do?” (Hmmm, there are two dos in that question … There’s another blog post there.) He said “Eat”. I said “But eat isn’t in the box. What else do we do?” He looked and said “Have”. I said “Right. Now change the verb tense.”

Other things we can do to breakfast include get, make, cook, prepare, buy, enjoy … and do. Some people “do breakfast”, or “do lunch”, or “do dinner”. Mostly “do lunch” and mostly in the form “Let’s do lunch (sometime)!”. 

This is a modern usage. Google Ngrams shows that do lunch has rocketed in usage since the mid-1980s, with do dinner and do breakfast also increasing, but less dramatically. 

But it may not be an entirely modern usage. To check that people use other verb tenses than the imperative “Let’s do (breakfast/lunch/dinner)”, eg “We did lunch yesterday”, I searched for do_INF breakfast, do_INF lunch and do_INF dinner, which returns all forms of the verb. I was surprised to find a strong usage of done breakfast and done dinner (but not done lunch) in the 19th century. Searching for * done breakfast, and * done dinner, which returns the top 10 words in place of the asterisk, I found that these mostly occurred in the verb phrases have/has/had (not/just) done breakfast/dinner. Nothing unusual there, except any explanation of why people used these forms then, and why they died out so suddenly soon after. And there are no significant differences between British and US English – people mostly had done breakfast in both varieties. I will probably never know.

In Korean, the standard verb for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the equivalent of English do (하다). It is also possible to say eat (먹다), but 하다 is more common. But this student wasn’t Korean. Maybe do is the standard verb in his language, as well. 

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