From erik-engheim.medium.com:

'People who do any kind of packaging have learned early that basing units on 12 makes sense. It is easier to pack that way, which is why things historically have been sold by the dozen. A grocer is simply somebody who sells goods by the gross.'

Has it been ruled out completely that 'grocer' comes in part from 'gross' meaning 144?

And from www.etymonline.com:

early 15c. (mid-13c. as a surname), "wholesale dealer, one who buys and sells in gross," corrupted spelling of Anglo-French grosser, Old French grossier, from Medieval Latin grossarius "wholesaler," literally "dealer in quantity" (source also of Spanish grosero, Italian grossista), from Late Latin grossus "coarse (of food), great, gross" (see gross (adj.)). Sense of "a merchant selling individual items of food" is 16c.; in Middle English this was a spicer.

No ruling out there of the senses of 'gross' meaning disgusting, nor '144'.

2 Answers 2


The excerpt from the website about different bases of counting makes no sense. They have a completely baseless claim. Why does it make sense to sell by the dozen? Why not tens? Fives? It's a bit of a silly claim when you take it alone, and I'd suggest you don't put too much stock into it.

Don't forget that gross can also mean unmitigated in anyway. As in gross tonnage or gross profit. This usage is more in line with the etymology of a modern grocer.

Compare this usage with your found definition of "dealer in quantity" and the parallels start to line up. You should also consider that this would be juxtaposed with the only other ways to get food:

  1. Grow it yourself
  2. Purchase it from someone who has already prepared it (decidedly not wholesale).

So given the alternative modern usages, and the alternatives to acquiring food in the times the word arose, you can see the link. I don't know how you'd find definitive proof that "grocer" is not linked to "gross = 144" in any other way than accepting the etymology research you have done.

  • 1
    The best argument against the derivation of 'grocer' from 'gross meaning 144' is consideration of what medieval and renaissance grocers actually sold. This was a time long before modern packaging meant that goods like flour were sold in handy sized disposable bags, what a wholesaler would have sold then would have been primarily sacks and barrels. Not many retailers would have wanted twelve dozen of either of those (the grocer himself might not have stocked twelve dozen of most of them) but they would have wanted 'gross' (that is 'large') quantities of many of them.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 8, 2021 at 3:11
  • 2
    There are four very good reasons for selling / storing / counting things by the dozen - specifically, 2, 3, 4, 6, all of which are factors of 12, which often makes it much easier to sell half, a quarter, a third, or a sixth of the "product" to customers who don't want that much. Base ten purchases can only be easily divide into fifths or halves. Apr 8, 2021 at 12:33
  • @FumbleFingers, I don't really see where that's going. Who would walk up to a point of sale and say "I'd like 2/3 of a dozen." Instead of "I'd like 8."? Especially if we're going to consider the average customer in a medieval period, I don't think we should expect stellar fractional math capabilities on either end of the transaction. Could be wrong though. Apr 9, 2021 at 13:47
  • @JoeMaxwell: I thought it was well known that the reason we like 12 as a "bundle" value is because it's got so many factors. Counting to the base 10 has nothing going for it apart from the fact that humans (and just about every other "vertebrate" line that survived the Cambrian radiation) happen to have 5 digits on each arm/leg. "Normal for Norfolk" notwithstanding, we'd probably all have evolved into much better mathematicians if we'd had six fingers instead of five! :) Apr 9, 2021 at 15:48
  • 1
    @MatthewChristopherBartsh It's probably inpossible to find such a citation, I doubt that there are any records of what they sold anywhere. It is however, logical to assume that they weren't selling small packages in large numbers as they do now, they would have sold a sack and let the retailer do the splitting. even the most rudimentary bag would have been quite expensive at the time and retail customers would have brought their own. Just about the only things they would have sold by the dozen would have been eggs, everything else would have been sold loose or in sacks or barrels.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 10, 2021 at 22:28

According to Word Origins by John Ayto

Grocer derives from gross which comes from Latin “grossarius” (wholesale dealer), a derivative of “grossus” (large, bulky). The term entered the English language via Anglo-Norman “grosser”, from Old French “grossier.”

No hint at the 144 theory.

According to the Word Detective the sense of gross was associated to that of 144 with the sense of “large dozen”:

The use of “gross” as a noun to mean “twelve dozen” (144) of something arose in English in the 15th century, drawn from the French “grosse douzaine” meaning “large dozen.” Interestingly, “gross” in this sense is always singular; we speak of “sixteen gross of ostrich eggs,” not “grosses.”

  • We say 'twelve dozen' and not 'twelve dozens', but we say 'dozens of times'. We say 'twelve gross' and never 'gross of times' , nor 'grosses of times'. Maybe that's because we say 'scores of times'. May 9, 2021 at 17:49

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