What Is the Origin of the Phrase Baker’s Dozen?
No one knows for sure about the origin of the phrase baker’s dozen, but there are a few theories out there. For example, some people believe that bakers used to bake loaves of bread on trays that held 13 loaves in rows of four, five, and four.
Others believe that the term came from the practice of selling 13 loaves to vendors for the price of 12. This would allow vendors to sell 13 loaves at full price, thereby earning a profit on each loaf. While this theory may have some merit, there’s no hard historical data to back it up either.
The most popular explanation for the term baker’s dozen appears to be the strict laws that applied to bakers hundreds of years ago. Long ago, bread was a primary source of food for many people, especially the poor. Unfortunately, it was also very easy for bakers to cheat customers by using less wheat and selling loaves that were lighter than expected.
Given how easy it is to buy a loaf of bread today, it may seem strange to think that people could care that much about a loaf of bread. History, however, shows us that people did care quite a bit about their bread many years ago.
For example, cheating bakers in ancient Egypt could have their ears cut off and nailed to the door of their bakery. Likewise, bakers in ancient Babylon who were caught selling light loaves could have their hands chopped off. The British even passed a law in the mid-13th century that detailed the required weights and prices of bread.
To avoid the possibility of such punishments, many bakers began to include a 13th loaf of bread with every dozen sold. This extra loaf made up for any possibility that the other 12 loaves might be light. Over time, that group of 13 loaves of bread became known as a baker’s dozen, and that’s what we still call it today!