See also: pot luck and pot-luck



From pot +‎ luck. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sense 3 (“a shared meal consisting of whatever guests have brought”) is unlikely to have been influenced by potlatch even though it has the same meaning.[1][2]



potluck (countable and uncountable, plural potlucks) (also attributively)

  1. (dated) A meal, especially one offered to a guest, consisting of whatever food is available.
    Here are some leftover beans and meat; we can make a good potluck stew from them.
    • 1741, unknown [formerly attributed to Daniel Defoe], The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, the British Amazon, commonly called Mother Ross: [], 2nd edition, London: Printed for R[ichard] Montagu, OCLC 221024157, part II, page 76:
      During my Stay here, I was going to take Pot-Luck with Colonel Ingram, and accidentally meeting him in the Way, I told him I deſigned to ſoul a Plate with him, [...]
    • 1782, M[arcus] Val[erius] Martial[is], “XXXIII. To an Entertainer.”, in The Epigrams of M. Val. Martial, in Twelve Books: [], London: Printed by Baker and Galabin, []; and sold [...] by B. White [et al.], OCLC 228751416, book VII (On the Convivial Manners of the Romans), page 327:
      Me, to pot-luck, may any friend invite: / The treat, I can return, is my delight.
    • 1810, Simon Gray [pseudonym; Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck], “Notes”, in Edinburgh, or, The Ancient Royalty; a Sketch of Former Manners: With Notes, Edinburgh: Printed for Manners & Miller, by J. Johnstone, [], OCLC 10769144, page 35:
      Instead of frequent potluck enjoyments, it seems folks, now-a-days, regale their friends with a feast, which, if as seldom attempted as the author paints, cannot induce bankruptcy.
    • 1853, Pisistratus Caxton [pseudonym; Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter VII, in “My Novel”; Or Varieties in English Life [], volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, OCLC 457185834, book first, page 30:
      A pretty way to conciliate 'little tempers' indeed, to add to the offence of spoiling the fish the crime of bringing an unexpected friend to eat it. Pot luck, quotha, when the pot's boiled over this half hour!
    • 1857, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “[The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton.] Chapter I”, in Scenes of Clerical Life [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, published January 1858, OCLC 977572916, page 22:
      But he never contradicted Mrs Hackit—a woman whose "pot luck" was always to be relied on, and who on her side had unlimited reliance on bleeding, blistering, and draughts.
  2. (by extension) Whatever is available in a particular situation.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, “Biographical”, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, OCLC 57395299, page 63:
      He at once resolved to accompany me to that island, ship aboard the same vessel, get into the same watch, the same boat, the same mess with me, in short to share my every hap; with both my hands in his, boldly dip into the Potluck of both worlds.
    • 1921 August, Frank H[amilton] Spearman, “The Raid of the Falling Wall”, in Laramie Holds the Range, New York, N.Y.: A[lbert] L[evi] Burt Company, published November 1921, OCLC 171172, page 143:
      How to get rich of Dutch Henry taxed the wits of the invaders. The whole morning and the early afternoon went to pot-luck firing from the trench along the draw, but although it was often asserted that Henry must long since be dead—having returned none of the shooting that was meant to call his fire—no one manifested the curiosity necessary to prove the assertion by closing in on the cabin.
  3. (originally Canada, US) A shared meal consisting of whatever guests have brought (sometimes without prior arrangement); a potlatch; also, a dish of food brought to such a meal.
    Synonym: fuddle (Britain, dialectal)
    • 1879 March 26, “The pot-luck picnic. An impromptu and enjoyable dinner–a display of culinary skill.”, in The New York Times[2], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, ISSN 0362-4331, OCLC 971436363, archived from the original on 16 July 2019, page 5:
      Last evening, at the Free Trade Club, a dinner was given by Hon. Robert R. Roosevelt to a large number of his friends. Though invitations had been issued for a week previous, the feast was decidedly of an impromptu character as far the viands went. [...] Cards of invitation of an amusing character were issued, on which the menu was indicated, with the names of the improvised cooks who were to concoct gumbo, lobster cutlets, plumb pudding, various salads, and coffee. [...] Course followed course in the most tumultuous way. Culinary inspirations and cookery nocturnes of all flavors and tastes crowded one on another. Anything like system was discarded, and this was thought likely to destroy the artistic effects of this pot-luck picnic.
    • 1981, Wendy Heller, My Name is Nabil[3], Los Angeles, Calif.: Kalimát Press, →ISBN:
      Then we had a potluck dinner. Each family brought a different dish. I always like Mrs. Rowlani's Persian rice best. I ate three helpings. Lisa likes it too, but she picks out the raisins and gives them to Fred [a dog].
    • 1984, Sue Samuelsen; Ray Kepner, “Bocce Ball Meets Hacky-sack: A Western Pennsylvania Independence Day Gathering”, in Bonita Freeman-Witthoft and Thomas E. Graves, editor, Keystone Folklore, volume 3, number 2 (New Series), West Chester, Pa.: Department of Anthropology and Sociology, West Chester University, for the Pennsylvania Folklore Society, OCLC 630001755, page 26:
      One of the most neglected areas in the study of American celebrations remains the small group festive gathering. As discussed by Linda T. Humphrey, the Small Group Festive Gathering is "somewhere between festival and ritual … and the solitary sandwich, (when) small groups of people get together to share food and drink and to have a good time" [...]. Among the examples she provides are potlucks, cocktail parties, and reunions.
    • 2014, Jeremiah Toed, “Teacher, Please Intradouche Me 2 Hot Girl in the 1st Row??”, in Beth Schaefer, Grade A Papers: A Funny Coffee Table Book for Teachers and the Universe: 30 Wacky, Whimsical Student Papers Plus 4 Hilarious Parodies of Composition Theorists, Evanston, Ill.: Books on a Whim, →ISBN, page 52:
      Throw a class partay and tell stoodents to bring a potluck. Tell stoodents them can bring crakers & cheez wiz, salad bowl for vegtablians, [...]
    • 2016, Kristin Donnelly, “Rules of the Potluck”, in Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share, New York, N.Y.: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, Crown Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 16:
      Potlucks are the time for fun, unfussy dishes. [...] Thankfully, people now enjoy lots of different flavors. Nevertheless, a potluck with people you don't know well might not be the time to bring that tripe recipe you've always wanted to try.
  4. (obsolete) The last draft or portion of an alcoholic beverage in a pot or other drinking vessel.
    • 1592 (first performance), Thomas Nash[e], A Pleasant Comedie, Called Summers Last Will and Testament[4], imprinted at London: By Simon Stafford, for Walter Burre, published 1600, OCLC 222298685:
      We had but euen pot luck, a little to moyſten our lips, and no more.
    • 1593, Tho[mas] Nashe, “[Dedication]”, in The Apologie of Pierce Pennilesse. Or, Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters: [], London: [] Iohn Danter, [], OCLC 222196160; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters [] (Miscellaneous Tracts; Temp. Eliz. and Jac. I), [London: s.n., 1870], OCLC 906587369, page iii:
      [...] I am bold, in ſtead of new wine, to carowſe to you a cuppe of newes: which if your worſhip (according to your wonted Chauceriſme) ſhall accept in good part, Ile bee your daily orator to pray, that the pure ſanguine complexion of yours may never be abaſht with pot-lucke, that you may taſt till your laſt gaſpe, [...]
    • [1658, Henry Hexham, “kanne-geluck”, in Het Groot VVoorden Boeck: Gestelt in ’t Neder-duytsch, ende in ’t Engelsch [] = A Large Netherdutch and English Dictionarie; Composed out of the Best Netherdutch Authours. [], Rotterdam: Gedruckt by Arnout Leers, OCLC 78234405:
      kanne-geluck, Pot-luck, or he that drinkes the laſt draught out of a Canne or Pot.]
    • 1712, [Thomas Burnet], A Certain Information of a Certain Discourse. That Happen’d at a Certain Gentlemans House, in a Certain County. Written by a Certain Person then Present, to a Certain Friend Now at London. From whence You may Collect the Great Certainty of the Account, London: Printed, and sold by John Baker [], OCLC 740831886, page 31:
      Lord, Why do you two argue about a Peace, whether it ought to be made or no, when it is already made. It is as though a Man ſhou'd talk of Plowing his Land after 'tis Sown, or as though I ſhou'd talk of drinking Potluck, now that the Bottle is empty.

Usage notesEdit

Sense 3 of the term is widespread in American English, though the Dictionary of American Regional English finds that it is less common in the South, the Mid-Atlantic states, and New York than elsewhere.

Alternative formsEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ potluck, n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2006; “potluck, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ See also “Potluck”, in The Word Detective[1], 2 June 2009, archived from the original on 5 July 2018.

Further readingEdit