I have noticed that some older cookbooks use the term 'receipt' in place of 'recipe'. Why did this change occur?

I tried looking up usage of both recipe and receipt using Google Books' NGram viewer, but I'm afraid I got a lot of false positives on 'receipt' because that word is used in so many other non-food-related contexts.

That said, for the word 'recipe' there was a sharp incline after about 1967, and a corresponding (although less dramatic) decrease in the use of the word 'receipt'.

I believe both words must have been in common usage in about 1950, at least where I live in the southern United States, because I have two cookbooks dated to around then which are both collections of recipes local to where each of my grandmothers lived, "Charleston Receipts" and "River Road Recipes".

I'm curious if any of you know more about these two words and why the sudden preference of one over the other.

  • 1
    In my lifetime, and in the literature I'm familiar with, receipt has always been a 'country' term in this sense. Sep 1, 2017 at 17:31
  • I remember long ago on the TV series "Upstairs Downstairs" when Mrs Bridges (the cook) said the word ... I just assume is was with a P sound in there, but an alternate pronunciation of "recipe" ra-SEEP. But maybe it was "receipt"?
    – GEdgar
    Sep 1, 2017 at 18:10
  • @GEdgar possibly, although I would think you would pronounce 'receipt' ra-SEET, unless it's pronounced differently in British English.
    – MMAdams
    Sep 1, 2017 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


The OED attests to this sense of receipt:

  1. A formula or preparation made according to a formula. Now generally superseded in this branch by RECIPE n. 12.
  2. gen. The formula of a preparation, or an account of the means, for bringing about some end; (in extended use) the means for attaining an end. Cf. RECIPE n. 3. Now arch.
  3. A statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making a dish or an item of food or drink; = RECIPE n. 2. Also in extended use. Now hist.


receipt book n. (a) a book containing medical or cooking receipts (also fig.) (cf. recipe book n. at RECIPE n. Compounds); (b) a book containing receipts for payments made.

This apparently originated in medicine and alchemy, from the Latin recipere via Anglo-Norman recepte and receit and so forth, in the sense of what today we would call a prescription— a list of the curative items a patient was to receive.

For example, in Chaucer (Yeoman's Tale):

… and whan that this preest shoolde
Maken assay, at swich tyme as he wolde,
Of this receit, farwel! It wolde nat be.

There are examples from the twentieth century. Gore Vidal's Screening History (1992) has the line

an inability to recognize and accommodate that same interest in others is a receipt for chaos.

and in the Independent on Sunday of 7 November 1993,

Jennifer Paterson prefers ‘receipt’ to ‘recipe’. It was current in her youth, she says, ‘in the days before the war, when people spoke English’.

But it does seem to have persisted in the food and drink sense, dialectically in the Southern U.S. An article by Heather Richie on Southern Living magazine's website, entitled "Keeping Receipts: The New Life of Old Cookbooks," notes that the Charleston Receipts cookbook, published since 1950 by the Junior League, opens with this poem:

We never mention recipe,
— The reason being that we felt,
(Though well aware how it is spelt!),
That it is modern and not meet
To use in place of old receipt
To designate time-honored dishes
According to ancestral wishes.

The reasons as to why the one form became preferred to another are probably impossible to know, any more than why any other word gains currency.

  • I did vaguely remember that Charleston Receipts deliberately used the word 'receipt' to sound more old fashioned.
    – MMAdams
    Sep 1, 2017 at 19:24

It appears that receipt was the term used for a culinary recipe before the latter was used with this meaning at the beginning of the 18th century:


  • as the OED entry tells us, recipe appears to have entered the English language in the 1400s. At this time it was common for physicians to place the word recipe (the 2nd person singular imperative of the verb recipere) at the top of prescriptions, before listing the ingredients that the patient should 'receive' for his or her medical remedy.

  • Amazingly, the first citation for the word in relation to cookery is as late as 1716. Before the 1700s, the everyday word for a culinary recipe was receipt. This word also derives from the Latin recipere.

From the British Library site

From Grammarphobia:

  • the two words (receipt and recipe) coexisted in this sense for more than a century and a half, but “recipe” became the dominant term in the early 20th century.

  • How, you ask, did this happen? Simply put, more people preferred “recipe” to “receipt” in the food sense. And in language, the majority rules. Whether language mavens like it or not, that’s the etymological recipe for success.

Also, according the World Wide Words there is evidence that receipt is still used today with the food connotation:

  • Recipe has been used alongside receipt since the eighteenth century in the sense of cookery instructions, gradually replacing it over time. At the time the newspaper report was written, 1895, receipt was still common.

  • It’s by no means entirely defunct even today. It is often — but by no means always — a deliberate archaism. John Wilson noted, “It was used on British television, up to the late 1990s, on the programme Two Fat Ladies, featuring Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late Jennifer Paterson, who invariably spoke of receipts. She said this with (metaphorical) relish and I feel sure she did it for effect as a conscious statement of her background and style.”

  • The Dictionary of American Regional English seems to suggest that it became more-or-less obsolete around 1960. William and Mary Morris wrote in their column Words, Wit, and Wisdom in 1970, ‘Throughout New England and in rural areas in many other parts of the country, you will still hear receipt more often than recipe.’ So at least the Morrises thought it was still very widely current in 1970.”

  • Interesting! I did actually come across that same link earlier when I first googled the question, but the mid 1700's seemed to show an increase in the use of both words, recipe and receipt. I'm curious about when 'recipe' started to be preferred over the older 'receipt'.
    – MMAdams
    Sep 1, 2017 at 18:58
  • -1 The British Library resource is outdated and unreliable. The 1716 reference has nothing to do with cooking (it talks about the ingredients of ink). Sep 1, 2017 at 19:04
  • @Clare - recipe in the cooking sense from the early 18th century is confirmed also from other sources, on what grounds do you say that a source is unreliable???????
    – user66974
    Sep 1, 2017 at 19:13
  • Would it help if I use bold font? The 1716 usage in the OED talks about the ingredients of INK. This is not a culinary reference. Sep 1, 2017 at 19:15
  • 1
    I suggest you read the whole answer,..and keep your sarcastic tone to yourself please.
    – user66974
    Sep 1, 2017 at 19:22

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