Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History Of Private Life just hit the shelves, so I’ve been reading and hearing interviews with him for days now. One of the questions that comes up most frequently is ‘why are there four tines on a fork?’ Or on most forks, anyway. Go ahead, have a look in your silverware drawer. You’re probably going to see four tines.
Early forks had two tines – the modernish European table fork came into being in the 10th Century, and was viewed as something of an unmanly Italian affectation for many, many years. But forks of many forms have been in use since the period of the Ancient Greeks, at least as serving implements. Early forks had two tines and were entirely straight (so no scooping), but forks with more tines quickly caught on because it’s easy to spear yourself instead of your food when you’re using a two-tined fork. Before four tines became the hottest tine number, there were three-tined forks and five-tined forks, and I even found one with six tines (for serving sardines)!
Pretty printed forks by Vintage Garden