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The meaning and origin of the expression: Take potluck

Take potluck

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Take potluck'?

Take one's chance as to what meal one is served when accepting another's hospitality. Also, in the USA, potluck is the name of a communal meal, in which participants each bring a dish to be shared.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Take potluck'?

Take potluck'Take potluck' originated in the UK in the 16th century. The original 'take one's chance at what is being served' meaning is still the one that is used and understood there and everywhere else outside of the USA.

Thomas Nashe recorded the term in Strange newes, of the intercepting certaine letters, and a convoy of verses, 1592:

"That, that pure sanguine complexion of yours may neuer be famisht with potte-lucke."

The American 'bring food to a party' meaning was defined in an entry in American Speech in 1924:

"Pot luck, food contributed by the guest. To take pot luck is to bring food with one to a party."

The use of the hyphen in the early citation of potte-lucke indicates that the expression may well have been in use earlier than the 16th century. Many words have taken the journey from two words -> hyphenated pair -> single compound word. There are numerous examples of this. Just a few of the b's that have taken this trip are:

Bare faced, bare-faced, barefaced
Bean counter, bean-counter, beancounter
Birth place, birth-place, birthplace
Blood stained, blood-stained, bloodstained
Bomb shell, bomb-shell, bombshell

In 16th century 'pot-luck' was almost always hyphenated, which points to an earlier time when it was written as two words. The ongoing effort to digitise old manuscripts may turn up a pre-16th century 'potte lucke' - we'll just have to take our chance on that.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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