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The term spork is a marriage of the two words, spoon and fork. The spork is actually one of our oldest utensils still in use, and most people believe the spork was manufactured as far back as the Middle Ages. The spork, which features a rounded spoonlike bowl, with small tines at the end for spearing food, was not patented until the 19th century, even though sporks existed long before this time. Some sporks even feature a cutting side on the scoop and may be called splayds.
Many people also use the term runcible spoon, first used in Edward Lear’s poem, “The Owl and the Pussycat,” to describe the spork. This is actually inaccurate. Lear’s drawing of the runcible spoon does not show a spoon with tines, and he essentially made up the word, “runcible.” However, some well-known dictionaries do now describe a runcible spoon as an alternate word for spork.
The spork has several popular uses. Plastic sporks are often given out as silverware in fast food restaurants. Kentucky Fried Chicken is believed to be the first fast food establishment to do so, but now many well-known fast food establishments offer plastic sporks. School cafeterias frequently offer the spork to children who order hot lunches, and they are also common in prisons since they cannot easily be converted into weapons.
A spork can be a baby’s first utensil, or first fork type. Since the tines of the spork are fairly blunt, babies don’t hurt their mouths when they’re still learning to coordinate themselves to self-feed. This can make eating a little easier and definitely more pleasurable.
Another popular use of the spork is as silverware for backpacking. These may be made out of light metals, like titanium. When carrying weight is a concern on long backpacking trips, carrying a spork makes better sense than carrying a fork and spoon. Some backpackers prefer the splayd for this purpose, since they can either scoop, spear or cut with the splayd.
You can also hear references to someone being “sporked” on the Internet. This refers to poking someone in a non-harmful way, or prodding him or her with a spork. This metaphorical use occurs with frequency in chat rooms and is a statement meant to amuse and not threaten other chatting guests.