Baker's dozen?

中国日报网 2018-03-09 11:18



Baker's dozen?Reader question:

Please explain this headline (, March 6, 2018): London’s £127 million Picasso fever - and the Englishman who bought a baker’s dozen.

And what does “baker’s dozen” mean exactly?

My comments:

Baker’s dozen means 13. A review of the story online confirms this, via this paragraph:

During the boom of the late Eighties, the new buyers driving the Picasso market were Japanese, now they are often Chinese. However, last week, Chinese bidders were mostly outgunned on the top Picasso lots by a quiet Englishman in a grey suit named Harry Smith, who bid without flinching until he won 13 Picassos (including that 1939 portrait of Walter) for £112.5 million.

It states that this “quite Englishman”, named Harry Smith, bought 13 Picassos.

The whole headline means this: In a feverish auction, Picasso paintings fetched a staggering £127 million in total, with an Englishman forking out for 13 of them.

Anyways, baker’s dozen means 13 – not twelve, the number a dozen usually represents.

How come?

It’s a long story. Sometime in the long past in England, laws were stiff and strict against cheating bakers who sold breads that were underweight. You know, they sell you two pounds of bread but when you come home and weigh the bread it’s only one pound and 14 or 15 ounces, meaning one or two ounces short. Apparently this practice became prevalent to a degree that the government took action to eliminate the practice – by introducing harsh penalties including, say, flogging or whipping in public.

To avoid punishment and the public humiliation that went with it, bakers began giving customers 13 pieces of bread when they only wanted and paid for a dozen, or twelve.

The thirteenth piece, hence, became known as the baker’s dozen, meaning something extra, something thrown in, something thrown in for good measure, that is.

The bakers of yore gave 13 as a cautionary measure, only to make sure that the bread wasn’t underweight lest they get caught shorting customers and get punished in consequence.

Today, the practice of giving 13 if you want 12 is no longer seen anywhere but the practice of giving customers a little extra as a good will gesture remains. In the marketplace anywhere in China, for example, it is commonplace to observe a vendor, after weighing, say, a bag of peanuts, grab a handful more and throw them into the bag for good measure as a good will gesture, hoping the customer will henceforth patronize his stand or stall a little bit more often and do so gladly and willingly.

Or it is common for a vendor to shout out loud something like this: “Buy one, get one; But five, get six.” That way, sales increase and the vendor may be able to sell out soon and gets to go home early.

It’s not dissimilar to getting a merchandize at whole-sale price if you will, if, that is, you buy something at a large enough quantity.

Well, that is that, a baker’s dozen, an idiom that’s old and British in origin meaning not the usual 12 but instead 13 (or on the rare occasion, 14).

Now, let’s read a few recent media examples:

1. A growing number of people are losing sleep over two words - revolutionary government. And it was President Duterte who freaked them out by simply stating the obvious, that all things being equal, declaring a revolutionary government is always a possibility. He cannot rule it out and neither can any president. That is the gist of what he said; that it is a possibility.

What Duterte did not say was that he was declaring a revolutionary government tomorrow. Yes, sir, he did not say that. So how come people are freaking out? Because the enemies of Duterte want them to freak out. Duterte mentioned the possibility of declaring a revolutionary government only once, and only in the context of a fallback in case the enemies of the state succeed in destabilizing the government. It is these enemies who dish out the revolutionary bogey in daily doses.

But the government is not being destabilized. There is no anarchy in the streets. The markets are still full of food and prices of goods are stable. Critics of government can still make fools of themselves without being believed, which means the national intellect still functions as it should. No one is being thrown to jail just for the heck of it.

In other words, there is no reason to fear a revolutionary government because one is not coming. But even if it did, one has to be a real troublemaker to be afraid. If you are just a normal citizen going about your daily affairs without bothering anyone, why would you have any reason to fear? As to those who have reason to fear, they must be real cowards to try and spread the fear around. They cannot bear living in fear alone.

And why is the simple one-time utterance by Duterte of a revolutionary government being a conditional possibility being taken against him when he did not invent revolutionary government as a concept? From 1897 to 1906, there have been more or less 12 revolutionary governments that have been declared in the Philippines. And in 1986, Cory Aquino made it a baker’s dozen. She was the first to declare a revolutionary government in contemporary times.

Now, if Cory Aquino declared a revolutionary government and got hailed as a modern-day heroine and savior of democracy, why would anyone be so mean to Duterte for simply considering its possibility? How can anyone be so blind to the gaping difference between simply considering revolutionary government as a possibility and actually going ahead and declaring it? To be so blind like that only exposes the selective sight symptoms of unbridled hypocrisy.

- EDITORIAL - RevGov and losing sleep over it,, December 4, 2017.

2. The first Friday in June, which falls on the 5th this year, is National Donut Day. We’ve been driving around the country visiting all 50 states for the last 3 years to seek out the best donuts. (Well, OK, we flew to Alaska and Hawaii.) Here’s our ranking of the best dozen donuts in America, with a bonus added to make it a baker’s dozen. And just to be clear, there are no cronuts on this list. They’re cute and all but more of a pastry than a donut.

Jelly Donut, Frangelli’s Bakery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The donuts at Frangelli’s look plain until you realize those are just the shells. When you order your donut they slide it onto a nozzle attached to a Rube Goldberg type contraption and pump it full of jelly. They you have your choice of rolling it in powdered or crystal sugar. Heaven in a donut.


Baker’s dozen bonus pick:

Malasada, Leonard’s Malasadas, Honolulu, Hawaii

For such a small state Hawaii manages to take up two places on this list. Malasadas are fried balls of dough that originate from Portugal, just like the owners of this bakery. At Leonard’s they are filled with your choice of custard, chocolate or coconut cream then coated with sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing, a sweet and sour dried plum powder. You’ll wait about 10 minutes for your donuts since they are made to order. The wait is most definitely worth it.

- The Dozen Best Donuts in America,, December 6, 2017.

3. One Dutch legend grew up around the Oranje village baker who lived and ran his bakery on Pearl Street. It was this baker, Wouter Albertz vanden Uythoff commonly called Baas (Boss), who first baked the St. Nicholas cookie that so excited the children. Wouter Albertz vanden Uythoff used a cookie cutter to cut the images of St. Nicholas so only he could make the familiar cake.

Baas was Dutch from his big feet to his round bald head. Everything that was Dutch was right and everything else was wrong and that was all there was to it. He prided himself on his work, convinced that he was the best baker to ever live, and he probably wasn’t too far wrong. Everything he made was excellent and very decorative. Everyone wanted his cakes and cookies.

He was a very devoted member of Oranje’s Dutch Church and always attended services, but like most early Dutchmen he was very superstitious. If he spilled salt, he was always careful to throw a pinch over his shoulder.

He was very economical and would not spend anything if he could avoid it. He dealt in Indian sewant, as did all residents of Oranje. He was quick to take it but slow to part with it. His wife was said to be very much like Baas except much more economical and even less likely to part with anything. It was rumored that she wouldn’t even part with her toenails expecting to eventually find a good use for them.

Baas and his wife noticed that they sold more and more St. Nicholas cookies every year. Even if they cut back in expensive ingredients or cut back in decorations, the cookies still sold more than last year. The children couldn’t be without them; they were a big part of the holiday. Not to buy St. Nicholas cookies just because they no longer tasted as good or looked as well decorated as in the past was impossible. Any child who did not wake to St. Nicholas cookies in his or her stocking would be grievously disappointed.

One St. Nicholas Eve an old woman dressed in a shawl and with a cane came into Baas’ bakery. Baas thought she was the ugliest woman he had ever seen.

“I want a dozen St. Nicholas cookies,” she shouted.

“Vel, den, you needn’t sbeak so loud,” replied Baas “I ain’t teaf, den.”

Counting out 12 St. Nicholas cookies, Baas wrapped them in brown paper, tied them with string, and handed them to her.

She unwrapped the package to inspect the cookies and screamed: “These are not real St. Nicholas cookies. These are not nearly as well decorated as in the past. You have cut back in the best ingredients. You stingy old man, you are cheating me!”

“Vel, den,” said the baker, “you may go to the duyvel.”

The old lady pointed her long and crooked finger at Baas and said, “You are a cheap and stingy man and you can keep your St. Nicholas cookies!”

The old lady threw down the St. Nicholas cookies and stomped out of the store. At the door she hesitated and turned and said; “I have been generous in letting you use me for your benefit, but that will not continue! What you have gained from me will be taken away until you deserve it!” This was a complete mystery to Baas since he had never seen the woman before in his life and hoped to never see her again.

From this time on, the baker and his wife were made miserable by unseen hands. His sewant disappeared during the night. Cookies and cakes disappeared; bread either rose out of site or sank into the earth. Their famous huge brick oven cracked and crumbled, the falling bricks landing on Baas. Worst of all, his St. Nicholas cookies turned to stone, they could not be eaten without breaking a tooth. No one wanted them; even the Indians wouldn’t buy them. The Dutch of Beverwyck started a new tradition of making fruit cakes to replace St. Nicholas cookies.

Three times on three consecutive St. Nicholas Eves the same old lady came in to Baas’ bakery, each time demanding a dozen St. Nicholas cookies and each time Baas told her to go to the “duyvel.” Each year his luck grew worse until he was nearly destitute.

Finally Baas was panicked. St. Nicholas Eve was approaching, and, if his St. Nicholas cookies failed him again this year, he would be out of business. He no longer thought his luck would change on its own; he felt he needed help. He went to the Dutch Church in the middle of Handelaers and Yonkers Streets and there he prayed to the Dutch St. Nicholas.

Suddenly St. Nicholas appeared before him. When he explained his plight, the kindly saint told him that he needed to be more generous and if he gave more, he would receive more good fortune. St. Nicholas told him to start with the old woman. St. Nicholas suggested giving her an extra cookie whenever she ordered a dozen.

Baas was thinking in his head that “St. Nicholas is a plockhead …” when suddenly St. Nicholas vanished and the old woman stood before him. She demanded a dozen St. Nicholas cookies.

Baas, remembering what St. Nicholas had told him, gave her 13 cookies while only charging her the normal price for a dozen of 12. She took the cookies and turned to him and said “The spell is broken!” Baas felt as if a large weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He knew that good times had returned and he would again be prosperous.

He chased after the old woman who had gone out the door, closing it behind her. When he threw it open, he saw St. Nicholas standing in front of the door and no one else on the street. St. Nicholas turned to Baas and said; “Baas, as long as you use my image to sell your cookies, you must give every customer an extra measure. You must use the best ingredients and decorations. You shall not skimp on anything. A dozen St. Nicholas cakes will always be 13 otherwise there will be dire consequences.”

The good saint went on to tell Baas that from now on if he is generous and always gives more, always gives 13 for 12, he will always prosper.

Baas learned his lesson and also learned that when he increased the quality and quantity of his baked goods, his sales went through the roof. The better he made his goods, the more the demand multiplied. He was soon very prosperous and always had lines outside his bakery. The Dutch, French, English and Indians all lined up with their sewant to buy his cookies.

The story of his prosperity grew and soon was spread throughout the colonies. Every baker wanted to know why Baas was so successful. He refused to divulge his baking secrets but they could all see that he always gave 13 for a dozen. Soon every baker in the colonies was giving 13 for a dozen, and this is how it came to be that 13 … is a Baker’s Dozen.

- A Baker’s Dozen: An Albany Fable,, December 24, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)



















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