Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Knives, forks & spoons

Knives, forks & spoons
We use them every day, but do we appreciate their etymologies? Hopefully this entry will help.

The word spoon originated in Proto-Germanic as spaenuz, which initially referred to a wooden chip or shaving. It entered Old English as spon. By the 1300s, spon began to mean wooden spoon, though its German cousin (also spelled spon), meant cooking spatula.

Fork came to the language before the 1300s in the form of forca, & meant a forked instrument used by torturers. This word came from the Latin word, furca, which meant both pitchfork, & fork used in cooking. Since English folk didn’t start eating with forks until the 1400s, the English form of the word initially shed its culinary meaning. It is also apparent that the English employed the otherwise pastoral pitchfork in some unsavory ways.

Knife has a somewhat two-pronged entry into English (har har). Knife may have entered Old English as cnif from the Old Norse word, cnifr, which came from the Old German word knibaz. These words all referred to some sort of blade. The Dutch word knijp, German, kneip, or French canif, all referring to a small blade like a penknife, may have also spawned the English word, knife. Hardworking linguists are still puzzling over which came first, the knife or the, well, knife.
Here are some utensil-inspired idioms:
1610 spoonfeed
1711 jack-knife
1799 spoon (meaning simpleton)
1801 to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth
1831 fork up / fork out / fork over

I’ve intentionally left out several utensil-inspired idioms in hopes that you might suggest some in the comment section. After all, I wouldn’t want to spoonfeed you.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik,, Etymonline,


  1. Then there's the kind of spoon-ing and crooning one does when there's a June moon... and you're really bad at original rhymes.

    The English didn't use forks until the 14th century? Did they eat with their cnifs? Hmmm.

  2. Ha! Spooning, indeed. And as I understand it, the cnif was the primary eating utensil.

  3. Just got back from a fabulous hike. I took the fork in the road that took me through the sycamore trees to the beach where waves knifing through soft rock over eons have caused spectacular stone structures. I watched little tide pool worlds spooned in spaces left by rocks long since rolled away. Ha! How about that!

  4. Christine,
    You're a veritable cornucopia of utensilar language!

  5. One wonders about the origins of spork and foon. I think it was Cub Scout Den 12 of Palm Beach in the spring of 19-ought-49 during our bi-yearly sojourn into the Everglades---I thought it was the Neverglades because Pinky Reichelt said we'd probably never get back---under the auspices, if not leadership, of Mrs. Reichelt, who remembered well her limes, toothpicks, tonic, and quart bottle of what she called her "adult-only medicinal imbibible," though neglecting to bring along our (ul) tooles de chowment.