Bakers' Dozen (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Bakers' Dozen"?

The term "bakers' dozen" means thirteen.
Bakers' Dozen (Origin)
A dozen is normally 12. A bakers' dozen, however, is 13. The reason bakers add an extra loaf for every 12 bought is to ensure buyers are not swindled with loaves that fall short of the expected weight. This safety mechanism is designed to protect the bakers, as well as the buyers. As far back as the 12th century, bakers could be fined or publicly flogged for selling bread that was under weight. To avoid punishment, bakers often added an extra piece of bread to any purchase to ensure the weight was fair.

Here is an extract from (The Worshipful Company of Bakers, a trade guild which dates back to the reign of Henry II (1154-89):

"In order to avoid the dangers of short-weight, bakers often gave a small extra piece of bread, the "in-bread," with each loaf. The custom arose likewise of bakers giving 13 loaves for every 12 bought, the extra one being termed the "vantage loaf" and hence the bakers' dozen."

Baker's Dozen or Bakers' Dozen

Both "baker's dozen" and "bakers' dozen" could be correct.
  • A baker's dozen. With the apostrophe before the s, this means "a dozen of one baker." Even though the term refers to all bakers, this version is grammatically feasible. When referring to one baker, the baker becomes a generic baker who is representative of all bakers. In essence, it is "a dozen of a trader known as a baker." It is similar to the terms cow's milk and goat's cheese, which correctly relate to one cow (an animal called a cow) and one goat (an animal called a goat), even though the milk and cheese clearly come from many cows and goats.
  • A bakers' dozen. With the apostrophe after the s, this means "a dozen of more than one baker." As the term refers to all bakers, not one specific baker, this would seem the most logical option. It is also the version used by "The Worshipful Company of Bakers," which is a strong argument for choosing this version.
Read more about using apostrophes.

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What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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