Jacob’s join

Jacob’s join is the term used by my mum and her friends to describe a get-together that involves each person bringing food – usually something they’ve made themselves – to share with the others. I would probably call such a gathering a potluck dinner/supper.

According to Wikipedia, the word potluck pr pot-luck first appeared in England during the 16th century in the workd of Thomas Nashe. At that time it referred to “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot”. It took on the sense of a meal where guest contribute dishes in the late 19th / early 20th century in the USA, and is thought to come from the Chinook Jargon word potlatch (gift), which comes from the Nootka p̓ačiƛ (to give in ceremony).

Other terms for Jacob’s join / potluck include: potluck dinner, spread, Jacob’s supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, pitch-in, carry-in, bring-a-plate and smorgasbord.

Is this kind of meal popular in your area? If so, what do you call it?

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Words and phrases.

20 Responses to Jacob’s join

  1. Christopher Miller says:

    Here in eastern Canada, I’ve only known the term potluck. Jacob’s Join is definitely new to me.

  2. Ryan says:

    I’m from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon), and we all call the setup a potluck. Spelling it potlatch isn’t uncommon, either.

  3. Dennis King says:

    Potluck it is here on the West Coast. It’s what I heard growing up in California. BTW, the late Am-Indian linguist Bill Bright explains “potlatch” as coming from Nootka in this manner:

    /p’aƛp’a-/, a reduplication of /p’a-/ ‘make ceremonial gifts in potlatch’, plus /-č/, a suffix marking iterative aspect.

    I don’t know if the “potlatch” ~ “potluck” connection is very widely accepted. It’s new to me, but tempting!

    Further BTW, I just now put up a Chinook Jargon (Chinuk Wawa) translation of the Three Monks tale:


  4. LandTortoise says:

    So strange.Linguistically sophisticated native speaker and me has never ‘eard any of these. Language is a weird(and wondrous) ding.

  5. Yenlit says:

    I have never heard of any of these terms for a communal meal in fact I’m struggling to think if we ever had a word for such an occasion where I’m from – a “get-together” or maybe “buffet meal” is the closest I can think of calling it?

  6. Petréa Mitchell says:

    “Potluck” is the only term I’ve ever known for it, living in the western US. “Smorgasbord” suggests to me an arrangement with a lot of different foods set out to choose from, but not necessarily assembled by the potluck method.

  7. Abbie says:

    New England: I’ve only ever heard “potluck” used.

  8. TJ says:

    Seems you have a problem with your keyboard Simon 🙂

    However, why the term “Jacob” is in? Is it of a biblical connection?
    Maybe my info is not that good that way, but I remember some story about Jacob and unexpected guest or beggar on his door… is this it?

  9. Simon says:

    TJ – nobody seems to be sure why it’s Jacob’s join, but it is apparently used mainly in Lancashire, where my mum lives. See: World Wide Words

  10. Andrew says:

    IN New Zealand, when we organise these we tell people to ‘bring a plate’, but I think we call it a potluck dinner too, we don’t call it a ‘bring-a-plate’. That’s my sense of it, anyway.

  11. Arakun says:

    In Swedish it’s called “knytkalas” from “knyte” ‘bundle’ (that you bring your food in) and “kalas” ‘party’. I believe it’s quite common around here. Smörgåsbord is not the same thing as a potluck/knytkalas but I guess it can turn into one if you invite enough guests. 😉

    My swe-eng dictionary translates “knytkalas” as ‘Dutch treat’. From what I understand Dutch treat is when each person of a group pays for her-/himself – e.g. each person paying for their own food at a restaurant – a common practice in the Scandinavian countries.

  12. Rauli says:

    In Finnish we call it “nyyttikesti”, which is a calque from the Swedish “knytkalas”.

  13. D.Jay says:

    My sister was travelling in England 20-plus years ago, and went to an Anglican church service in Oxford. In the bulletin there was an announcement that, following the service, there would be a “Canadian lunch”. Of course she had to stay, being Canadian, and discovered that, for that community at least, “Canadian lunch” meant potluck.

  14. D.Jay says:

    I just checked the World-Wide Words link, and saw this:

    In Australia and New Zealand such gatherings were often advertised in terms like “Gents half-a-crown, ladies a plate”, with the intention, sometimes misunderstood by new immigrants, that the plate should have food on it!)

    That sounds like a “box lunch” which was a fund raiser at a Southern Baptist church I attended for awhile, where the women prepared a lunch for two and sealed it in a decorated box, with no name displayed. The boxes were auctioned off to the men, who then shared the meal with the woman who prepared it.

  15. Jeff says:

    Up in New Hampshire, USA, we call it a potluck dinner or a cookout.

  16. LandTortoise says:

    The resondent D.Jay’s reference to a Christian context reminds me that again over 20 years ago,in a Catholic context, such a meal also was called an “agape meal” (pronounced ah-gah-pay).

  17. Petréa Mitchell says:

    This just in: my SO has heard “smorgasbord” used as a synonym for “potluck” on a US TV program.

  18. In comments 6 and 17, Petréa Mitchell raises the topic of the primary meaning of smorgasbord. I, too, am surprised to hear of it being used as a synonym for potluck.

    But I wonder whether English speakers elsewhere would agree with me in differentiating between buffet vs smorgasbord by saying that it’s a buffet when it’s in a restaurant and a smorgasbord when it’s at a privately-hosted party.

    I’m in Australia, where the smorgasbord meal is a very common format for privately-hosted parties.

  19. Lilian says:

    In Mexico (spanish) we refer as “fiesta de traje”. The translation would be something like “brought or bring”. The guests and the host agree on who’s bringing salty or sweets dishes or beverages.

  20. Rachel says:

    Here in England I usually use ‘bring and share (meal)’ for this. I think some use potluck, but that is generally seen as the American term. Otherwise we’d just describe it, as in ‘everyone’s chipping in with the food/bring something to add to the pile’.

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