The Spork’s Weird History
Table utensils are, above all, cultural objects, carrying with them a view of what food is and how we should conduct ourselves in relation to it. And then there are sporks.
The term “spork” is first recorded in a dictionary in 1909, though the first patent for one was only issued in 1970. Both the word and the thing are a hybrid of spoon and fork. Like a pencil with an eraser on the end, the spork is what theorists of technology call a “joined” tool: two inventions combined. In its classical form — fashioned from flimsy disposable plastic and given away at fast-food outlets — the spork has the scooping bowl of a spoon coupled with the tines of a fork. It is not to be confused with a Splayd (knife, fork and spoon in one), a knoon, a spife or a knork.
Sporks have developed an affectionate following of a somewhat ironic kind in our lifetime. There are several web sites devoted to them, proffering tips on use (“Bend the prongs inward and outward and stand the spork on end. This is a leaning tower of spork.”), haikus in their honor (“The spork, true beauty / the tines, the bowl, the long stem / life now is complete”) and general musings. spork.org has this to say:
A spork is a perfect metaphor for human existence. It tries to function as both spoon and fork, and because of this dual nature, it fails miserably at both. You cannot have soup with a spork; it is far too shallow. You cannot eat meat with a spork; the prongs are too small.
A spork is not one thing or another, but in-between. In the Pixar-animated film “Wall-E,” a robot in a postapocalyptic wasteland attempts to clear up the detritus left behind on planet Earth by the human race. He heroically sorts old plastic cutlery into different compartments until he encounters a spork. His little brain cannot cope with this new object. Does it go with the spoons? Or the forks? The spork is uncategorizable.