One of the first published instances using "potluck" was by Thomas Nashe, who wrote during Shakespeare's time. In 1592, Nashe included the term in his stage drama “Summer’s Last Will and Testament,” according to Robert Palmatier in "Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms." The original text in which the word is used states, “Because you are my countrymen and so forth; and a good fellow, is a good fellow, though he have never a penny in his purse. We had but even pot-luck, a little to moisten our lips, and no more.”

Making Room at the Table

Potluck can be used to describe a situation that is "the luck of the draw."
Potluck can be used to describe a situation that is "the luck of the draw."

The noun, adjective and adverb definitions of potluck include accepting an unplanned offering. For example, the original meaning of potluck was a noun, and it meant a meal with no planned menu. It was a meal that had food available that was the “luck of the draw.” In a sentence, an unexpected guest might have to accept potluck instead of a planned meal that was cooked with the idea of feeding him.

Community Suppers and Casseroles

Guests bring varied dishes to a modern potluck dinner.
Guests bring varied dishes to a modern potluck dinner.

In modern usage, potluck is usually an adjective. A potluck supper is typically referred to as a food gathering where everyone brings a random dish. Once it was used to describe a meal with random dishes, it began to be used as an adverb to describe events outside of food.

Leaving It to Chance

To experience things randomly is to accept events potluck.
To experience things randomly is to accept events potluck.

Used in a sentence, the secondary, adverb meaning of potluck is accepting circumstances that happen to be available. “Ned went to town for a newcomers potluck to meet friends, but it was canceled. Instead, he ended up gathering his new friends potluck from the coffee shop.” A synonym for the adverb form of potluck is “at random” and indicates that no one has previous knowledge about what will be available.