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 apparently found unsavory things to do with forks.
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, the knife.
Here are some utensil-inspired idioms:
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 comments section. After all, I wouldn’t want to spoonfeed you.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik,, Etymonline,
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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