When someone is told to "bring a plate" to a picnic in Australia, does it literally mean just bring a plate? Or should they be bringing something else as well?


The term "bring a plate" means that you bring some food along to the gathering to share with everyone. It doesn't have to be on a plate, it can be any dish - and in general it's food that is ready to eat straight away.


No. You do not want to turn up with just a plate - ie a piece of crockery.

Bring a plate is to bring a plate of food that can be eaten from said plate. This can be either a sweet food such as pikelets or chocolate crackles; or savoury, such as triangle sandwiches, potato salad etc.

Less common is to bring a large dish, such as quiche or salad that needs a bowl rather than a plate, and even less common is to bring something that would serve as an entire course, ie roast lamb with vegetables. Not entirely unknown, just less common.

As a meme, bring a plate arose as western social gatherings in Australia traditionally revolve around cartons of beer and meat being cooked on a barbecue with the occasional salad. Bringing a plate added some involvement for the womenfolk, and the food kept the kids from going hungry - allowing the men longer time to keep drinking. :-)

  • 1
    The same practices are followed in the US; the only difference is that we speak of bringing a dish rather than a plate. However, these days it's more usual to indicate that the dinner is potluck than to explictly demand that participants bring something. The exception is BYOB: "bring your own beer" (or "booze"). – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 26 '13 at 20:56
  • Dish is also used more broadly to mean some sort of prepared food item: "Her duck confit was a very well-prepared dish." – BobRodes Aug 14 '13 at 21:45

This is an example of synecdoche, a figure of speech which uses part of a thing to mean the thing itself. In this case the word plate (or, in other locales, the dish) means a plate of food.

Synecdoche is used frequently in English. This is equally true of other languages. That can create a challenge when learning a new language, because it is not easy to imagine all the ways a word might stand for a part of something else.

Synecdoche” at Wikipedia
Synecdoche” at Simple Wikipedia

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.