Fork, an implement consisting of a handle and two or more prongs, used to lift certain substances. Table forks do not seem to have been known in antiquity, though archaeologists have found articles among the rubbish in the Appian way and in the ruins of a Roman town in Champagne, which they considered to be table forks. The Jews and Etruscans did not use any at table, though they had forks for other purposes. The ancient Egyptians used a large fork for stirring the fire or water in the kitchens, and forks of wood were used by Egyptian peasants. The Greek word signifies a fork, but merely a flesh fork, employed to take meat from a boiling pot, and not one used at table. The Latin words furca, fusvina, furcilla, and fuscinula are equally inapplicable to our modern forks. The first two were probably instruments which approached nearly to our furnace and hay forks. The fur-cilia was large enough for a weapon. The word fuscinnla, which in modern times is used chiefly for a table fork, is not to be found in that sense in any of the old Latin writers. The old translations of the Bible only explain the Greek by fuscinnla. According to some records, the use of table forks seems to have been known in the 12th century, but only exceptionally. They are mentioned in the inventory of a prince's plate in 1379, but they did not come into more general use in Italy till the end of the 15th century. Ga-leotus Martius, in a book which he wrote upon Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary (1458-1490), at whose court he resided, praises the king for eating without a fork, yet conversing at the same time, and never soiling his clothes. Martius states that forks were used at that time in many parts of Italy, but not in Hungary. He adds that meat was taken hold of with the fingers, which on that account were much stained with saffron, a condiment then put into sauces and soups. In the 16th century forks were not yet used in Sweden, and at the end of that century they were novelties even at the court of France. In the convent of St. Maur in France, the introduction of forks was opposed as sinful by the old and conservative monks, and advocated by the young and progressive brethren. In other monasteries, too, the use of forks was for a considerable time forbidden, and considered a superfluous luxury.
Thomas Coryat, who travelled in 1608 on the continent, and published in 1611 an account of his travels under the title of "Crudities," says: "J observed a custome in all those Italian cities and townes through the which j passed, that is not used in any other country that j saw in my travels, neither do j thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only Italy. The Italians, and also most strangers that are commorant in Italy, do alwaies at their meales use a little forke when they cut their meate. This form of feeding j understand is generally used in all places of Italy; their forkes for the most part being made of yronn or Steele, and some of silver, but these are used only by gentlemen. The reason of this their curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means indure to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane. Hereupon j myself thought good to imitate the Italian fashion by this forked cutting of meate, not only while j was in Italy, but also in Germany, and often-times in England since j came home; being once quipped for that frequent using of my forke by a certain learned gentleman, a familiar friend of mine, one Mr. Laurence Whita-ker, who in his merry humour doubted not to call me at table furcifer only for using a forke at feeding, but for no other cause." The use of forks was at first much ridiculed in England; in one of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays "your fork-carving traveller" is spoken of very contemptuously; and Ben Jonson has also ridiculed them in his "Devil is an Ass: "
The laudable use of forks, Brought into custom here as they are in Italy, To the sparing of napkins.
Dr. Johnson asserts that among the Scotch highlanders even knives have been introduced at table only since the revolution of 1688. The English, Dutch (vork), and French (fourche) have adopted the Italian names forca and forchctta for table forks, though these names were probably used at an earlier period to denote pitchforks, flesh forks, and other large instruments, for which formerly the Low German name was Forke. The Chinese use no forks, but have instead small sticks of ivory, which are often of fine workmanship inlaid with silver and gold.