What do you call knives forks and spoons?
Silverware, Cutlery, Flatware, Globshovelers and the results of a poll
I was noodling on this question and did a bit of research. There are a few terms that could be used. Silverware is common but can you have plastic silverware? Flatware is sometimes used. Cutlery is common but in the US mostly means knives. Utensils is more general but can mean anything for household use?
So which is it? I turned to the wisdom of the crowds. I asked my friends, ‘Research question: What do you call “knives forks and spoons” as a group?🍴🥄❓’
This is the result:
Silverware is the clear winner. Followed by utensils, cutlery then flatware.
Other given names included, A Setting, Grub pokers, Globshovelers, Vittlescoops, Mealstabs, Food Rakes, and Weapons.
The English Stack Exchange (those sometimes nice proper grammar people) had a nice summary of the various terms.
Cutlery has two definitions: 1. cutting/edged implements used for serving or eating food; 2. eating utensils in general. Without further context, an American is likely to assume the first definition (knives), while a Brit is more likely to go for the generic meaning. Silverware also means eating utensils, especially silver-colored ones, though nowadays, most silverware is not actually made of silver. An American synonym that does not imply anything about the silver content (or lack thereof) is flatware.
History of Silverware
Then I started thinking, you can’t call a group of things anything, until they have all been invented. So I looked into the history of the various silverware members.
Gizmodo has a good history of the knife fork and spoon, which I summarize below.
History of the spoon
Spoons have been around forever. Humans need food, we need something to scoop it up with.
Archaeological evidence suggests that spoons with handles were used for ancient Egyptian religious purposes as early as 1000 BC. Made from materials such as ivory, wood, flint and slate, these spoons were covered in ornate decorations and hieroglyphics. The first documented evidence of spoons in England was in 1259 — it was counted as an itinerary item from King Edward I’s wardrobe.
History of the fork
Some of the earliest known table forks made their debut in Ancient Egypt. The Qijia culture (2400–1900 BC) that resided in part of present day China also are known to have used forks. A couple thousand years later, the fork’s popularity in the Western world spread via the Silk Road into Venice.
One of the earliest recorded evidence of forks in Venice is from an 11th century story of the the wedding of a Byzantine princess, Theodora Anna Doukaina, to Domenico Selvo. She supposedly brought gold forks as part of her dowry.
Of course, in the Book of I Samuel (2:13)- thought to have been composed around 640–540 BC- it states that Jewish priests’ assistants used forks
History of the knife
Knives have been around forever as well. Knives weren’t domesticated or fashioned exclusively for table use until the Bourbon Dynasty in France. In 1669, Louis XIV, made sharp knives illegal at the table and replaced them with blunter / wider ones. Safer for everyone involved.
In the end, I am happy to know the ‘correct’ term, as well as happy the various members of the silverware family were invented so I could enjoy them.
The definitions for anyone interested.