Hello- BIG July 2012
The word cutlery comes from the Old French word coutellerie (related to today’s French word couteau ‘knife’) yet the words knife, fork and spoon are all from Old English. The knife was by far the earliest of the cutlery items.
The word knife comes from the Old English cnif, and the first knives would have been weapons and hair-cutting tools rather than cutlery items. They were made from shell or stone and were very simple cutting edges. Gradually flint blades were polished and fitted with crude wooden handles. By the time of the Bronze Age, knives were made of metal, first copper then bronze. Nowadays they’re made of stainless steel.
By 1066, it was the fashion in Britain to share a knife at the table, probably a big heavy knife made by a smith. Knives were important possessions. In 1340, King Edward III left a knife in his will to a friend.
To go under the knife is to have a surgical operation and if the atmosphere is tense or oppressive, you could cut it with a knife.
To stick the knife into someone is to be malicious or vindictive towards them and if the knives are out there is open hostility.
If something is easy to do, it’s like a hot knife through butter, remaining in a dangerous situation is living on a knife-edge and deliberately making someone’s suffering worse is turning the knife in the wound.
In June 1934, a series of political murders in Germany was known as The Night of the Long Knives.
The fork was originally used just to hold the meat while it was being carved. The royal courts of the Middle East used dining forks in the 7th century AD but it took centuries for this custom to spread to Europe.
When an Englishman brought table forks back from his travels in Italy in 1608, the English ridiculed them as being unnecessary. They were gradually accepted by the well-to-do. The word fork comes from the Old English forca.
Where the road forks refers to a road splitting into two roads.
To fork out for something is to pay reluctantly for something and to speak with forked tongue is to lie.
The word spoon comes from the Old English spon ‘a piece of wood or wood shaving’ probably from the original utensil which was just a flat spatula or the scooped-out end of an animal bone.
To dish out with a spoon is to provide generously but to spoonfeed someone is to provide so much help that they don’t need to think for themselves. Spooning is an old-fashioned word for kissing and cuddling. To be born into a rich family and enjoy wealth and privilege is to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
Ladle is also from an Old English word hlaedel ‘to load’ and means a large spoon. To ladle out sympathy is to provide sympathy overgenerously.
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