- whatever the family meal happens to be: a neighbor invited in to take potluck
- whatever is available, with little or no choice
- potluck dinner
- Whatever food happens to be available for a meal, especially when offered to a guest: Having arrived unannounced for supper, we had to take potluck.
- A meal at which each guest brings food that is then shared by all. Also called potluck supper.
- Whatever is available at a particular time: The scheduled flight was canceled and passengers had to take potluck on the other airlines.
- The term is commonly used attributively, as in the noun phrase "potluck dinner".
- 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.
- The “communal meal" sense is only recently attested; even in 2010, some dictionaries did not include it while others included it but sometimes proscribed it, opining that potlatch should be used instead for that sense.
Spelled pot-luck before the 20th century, from pot +"Ž luck. The sense “meal offered by a host to an unexpected guest" dates to 1592; into the early 20th century, the word was used only to mean “meal provided by the host".
The sense “communal meal" may derive from confusion of potluck and potlatch, though this is uncertain: it may be a simple extension of the traditional meaning of “meal with guests". Some works, e.g. the one cited below from 1879 New York, use the word for an impromptu meal cooked by guests at a party (rather than made by guests bringing food to a party), emphasizing the random nature of the potluck and connecting the modern “communal meal" sense and the older sense.