Everyone knows how many constitute a standard dozen; 12. What if you get one piece extra? Then it becomes a Baker’s Dozen. Also known in other names like devil’s dozen and long dozen, the Baker’s Dozen is used to denote a group of 13 items. According to the Hotten’s Slang Dictionary of 1864, a Baker’s Dozen “consists of thirteen or fourteen; the surplus number, called the in-bread, being thrown in for fear of incurring the penalty for short weight.”
The phrase Baker’s Dozen didn’t appear in English language until the 15th or 16th centuries, even though the story behind its origin dates back as far as to 12th century. The phrase originated from a practice among the bakers in England which started as a result of a law implemented by the king.
As with any other industry, corruption and trickery had been present among the bakers as well. Since bread was a part of daily provisions, the people grew agitated and called for a control over the bakers. The bakers were regulated by a trade guild named The Worshipful Company of Bakers, founded in 12th century. With the support of this committee, King Henry III implemented a statute called Assize of Bread and Ale statute in 1266. The statute regulated the price of ale and bread according to the price of wheat. Any traders who had been found guilty of giving short weight of bread could face serious punishments like heavy fine and even beating.
However, without the modern techniques, it was impossible to come up with the exact measure every time. Mistakes were sure to happen. In fear of the punishments, the bakers took insurance by adding a small piece of bread to the usual amount every time they sold it. This additional piece was called in-bread or vantage loaf. This practice slowly incorporated itself to the industry and continued for decades. The Assize of Bread and Ale statute had been in force till 19th century.
However, the direct relation between the practice and the phrase baker’s dozen is dubious. The bakers used to add the additional piece to any amount of bread sold. The phrase appeared in use much later. It was popularized by the writers. Since, there was a term dozen, it was easy to modify it and relate it to the practice of bakers. One of the earliest appearances of the phrase is in the lines by John Cooke: “Mine’s a baker’s dozen: Master Bubble, tell your money.”
Later many people went on to use the phrase and it became a part of daily life. Even though there are some other theories as well, this is the most plausible one.
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