Italian inventions: the utilitarian table fork, once a “scandalous” innovation

Jan 15, 2019 299


In most western households, forks are a basic part of a table setting — unless you’re all eating is soup.  The relationship Italians have with the fork is certainly crucial. How could we eat spaghetti without one?  ,When I was a kid, my dad spent hours teaching me how to twirl my fork so that not a strand of spaghetti hung down as I lifted that incredible tool to my mouth. He also taught me you don’t use a fork and a spoon to eat pasta. Twirling spaghetti against a spoon is for children and at a certain point I had to grow up. 

In his book The Civilizing Process (1939), sociologist Norbert Elias traced the “civilizing” of manners in Western Europe. He highlighted the Italian invention of the fork and its physical development as manifestations of social interaction and norms of etiquette and decorum. Both the words forchetta and “fork” originate from the Latin word furca, which actually translates as “pitchfork”, but the kinds of forks ancient Romans used (furcula, fuscina and fuscinula) were not the type we employ today. They had one or two straight tines for the only purpose of spearing or anchoring food while cutting. 

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