Why does a baker’s dozen add up to 13 instead of 12?

5 Mar

There’s many things in the world that just don’t make sense. Donald Trump’s hair, the success of Jersey Shore and the tabloid world’s continued focus on an obviously non-existent Aniston/Pitt/Jolie love triangle.

Then there’s the baker’s dozen.

Now, I might have just (barely) snagged a C grade in Maths 1, but even I know what a dozen is. So I’ve always been perplexed that a baker’s dozen is counted as 13 rather than 12.

I assumed it was a bit of a quirk, like the way builders used to hoist a XXXX sign to the top of a construction site where they hadn’t been given any beer yet. But there’s actually a legal reason for it, one that goes way back in history.

Because bread has long been a staple food of society, many ancient civilisations levelled harsh punishments on bakers who cheated their customers. The ancient Egyptians, for example, would nail their ear to the door.

And in 13th Century England, things weren’t much better, as penalties for accidentally cheating a customer were severe, starting with fines and going through to the loss of a hand.

With regulations centred around the weight of the loaves, and the almost impossible task of making them uniform, bakers began giving customers more than what they paid for, ensuring they were always over and never under. And in the case of a dozen, say, loaves of bread, that meant customers walked away with 13 instead of 12, ensuring everyone lived to see another punishment-free day.

And thus came the measurement of a baker’s dozen.

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2 Responses to “Why does a baker’s dozen add up to 13 instead of 12?”

  1. Gavin Lauman March 6, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Is there a pattern emerging here? How to make cookies then a story on bread? Tasty!

    • whatcanilearntoday March 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      Yes, I think the pattern is that I need to stop deciding on my topics when I’m hungry 🙂

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