What is a Runcible Spoon?

wiseGEEK Writer

A runcible spoon is a fictional spoon. The word “runcible” is a nonsense term first used by the poet Edward Lear in the 19th century. Lear used the term first in his poem “The Owl and The Pussycat,” where the two besotted animals dine on mince and slices of quince, eating them with a “runcible spoon.” Lear also used the term runcible again as a modifier for hat, goose, and wall.

The word "runcible" is a nonsense term first used by poet Edward Lear.
The word "runcible" is a nonsense term first used by poet Edward Lear.

To help decide what a runcible spoon truly is, Lear offers an illustration of the Dolumphious Duck, who catches frogs with one. Although the spoon is often defined as a spork in modern language, Lear’s illustration offers us a different look at what it might be. It appears to be a long-handled spoon with a large curved bowl, somewhat resembling a punch bowl spoon or a ladle. Unlike the spork, Lear’s drawing does not include tines.

In the poem "The Owl and the Pussycat," the two animals dine on slices of quince.
In the poem "The Owl and the Pussycat," the two animals dine on slices of quince.

There are several explanations on possible inspirations for the word runcible. The most likely appears to be that it derives from the word rouncival or rounceval, primarily French in origin. Rouncival is defined as exceptionally large, and this adjective would explain Lear’s drawing.

A Latin word runcare means to weed out. This word could explain the Dolumphious Duck’s fishing process with a runcible spoon. The duck is really weeding out the frogs from the water. Yet it does not make sense when a person or a hat is considered runcible.

Despite the nebulous meaning of the words runcible spoon, they trip off the tongue with delight and account for their many uses by other authors. Isaac Asimov refers to it in his novel The Currents of Space. Lemony Snicket, in his final book in the Series of Unfortunate Events: The End, mentions an island cult where members only use this spoon as a utensil.

Runcible Spoon is also the name of jazz band, a store in Rhode Island that sells kitchen items, a restaurant in Indiana, and a bakery in New York. Despite an unclear picture of what it is, or even what the adjective means, it continues to capture the public’s imagination.

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Discussion Comments


I find it quite queer, hearing that Edward Lear's

runcible spoon (itself a great boon)

is not understood,

but it easily could,

when into my cranium,

while studying Romanian, "Arunca" (a verb)

translates to the word

that we say as throw,

and therefore (ergo)

it seems to me plausible

the spoon is disposable


@FirstViolin, I always wanted to know what a runcible spoon was, and secretly wanted one myself. I suppose I, too, will just have to settle with the words and not the spoon.


When I was little, I was big into collectible spoons. My uncle, knowing this, mentioned a runcible spoon offhand, probably never thinking that it would roll right off me.

However, I got really interested in it, and looked all over the place for a silver runcible spoon -- I mean, I crawled through way too many souvenir spoon displays and flea market spoon racks looking for a runcible spoon, until somebody finally took pity on me and let me in on the joke.

It's a running joke in our family now, but I have to say I still love the words -- they really do trip off the tongue.

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