Fun_People Archive
10 Sep
The Evolution of Useful Things

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 97 16:43:16 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: The Evolution of Useful Things

Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <>

By the middle of the eighteenth century, gently curving tines were standard
on English forks, thus giving them distinct fronts and backs...  But the
fork was a rare item in colonial America... In seventeenth-century America,
"knives, spoons, and fingers, with plenty of napery, met the demands of
table manners"... in the absense of forks some colonists took to holding
the spoon in the left hand, bowl down, and pressing a piece of meat against
the plate so that they could cut off a bite with the knife in the right
hand. Then the knife was laid down and the spoon transferred from the left
to the generally preferred hand, being turned over in the process, to scoop
up the morsel and transfer it to the mouth (the rounded back of a spoon
being ill suited to pile food upon). When the fork did become available in
America, its use replaced that of the spoon, and so the customary way of
eating with a knife and spoon became the way of eating with a knife and
fork. In particular, after having used the knife to cut, the diner
transferred the fork from the left to the right hand, turning it over in
the process, to scoop up the food for the mouth, for the spoonlike scooping
action dictated that the fork have the tines curving upward. This theory is
supported by the fact that when the four-tined fork first appeared in
America it was sometimes called a "split-spoon." The action of passing the
fork back and forth between hands, a practice that Emily Post termed
"zigzagging" and contrasted to the European "expert way of eating," persists
to this day as the American style.

	-- Henry Petroski, "The Evolution of Useful Things"

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