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Now a fast-food staple, the spork is 144 years old

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With Thanksgiving already gone and Christmas still several weeks away, maybe this would be a good time for us to discuss, analyze and learn more about an item called a spork.

Spork, is that really what he said?

Sounds like he may have either finally lost it or otherwise simply run out of topics.

Either way, while some of you might be familiar with a spork, some are probably not, so please bear with me as we continue.

I can’t say for sure if I had ever heard or used the term spork prior to a couple of weeks ago when fellow Johnstonian News reporter Steve Reed brought it up.

Before proceeding further, it’s necessary to provide the definition of another word that may be as unfamiliar to most of you as spork.

That word is portmanteau, and I’d like a show of hands of all those who are honestly familiar with this word.

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia devoted to just about every subject under the sun, portmanteau is a “linguistic blend of words in which parts of multiple words or their sounds are combined into a new word.”

Examples of portmanteau include smog; derived by combining smoke and fog, motel; coined by blending the words motor and hotel, and brunch; a merging of breakfast and lunch.

Congratulations, you have just learned something that, while slightly fascinating, will likely be of no value to you for the rest of your natural life.

Quoting from Wikipedia once again, a spork is defined as a “portmanteau of spoon and fork and is a hybrid type of cutlery taking the form of a spoon-like shallow scoop with two to four tines.” 

Most sporks are disposable and made of plastic.

They are frequently found in fast-food restaurants and school cafeterias, at catered events or parties, aboard airlines or in places where any kinds of prepackaged meals are available.

Since sporks are a lightweight and space-saving alternative to carrying both a fork and spoon, they are frequently used by backpackers, hikers, Boy Scouts, members of the military and all kinds of outdoorsmen.

In addition, plastic sporks are also commonly used in prison cafeterias throughout the United States, not so much because they are lightweight but more because, according to one encyclopedia entry, it’s difficult for prisoners to form them into knife-like weapons that could be used to attack or stab other inmates. 

That is a factor I would have never considered when thinking about using a spork.

While most current sporks are plastic, some are made from other materials such as stainless steel, aluminum, titanium and wood.

Records show that a combined knife, fork and spoon contraption resembling the modern spork was invented by Samuel W. Francis with a United States patent issued in 1874 when the word “spork” was first used and was registered as a trademark.

Other patents for sporks are known to have followed in 1908, 1912, 1951, 1970, 1978 and 1998.

None of these design patents prevented anyone from designing and manufacturing a different version of a spork.

As might be expected, the “get-rich quick” crowd apparently tried to capitalize on the manufacture of sporks, although no record could be found that any of those who invented or re-invented the spork became wealthy because of it.

A spork appeared in the 1909 supplement to the Century Dictionary, where the item was described under a trade name and “a ‘portmanteau-word’ applied to a long, slender spoon having, at the end of the bowl, projections resembling the tines of a fork.”

Since the spork’s introduction, there have been other related knockoffs and similar efforts in the same vein, although none have been as successful as the spork.

Among those have been a sporf, a utensil consisting of a spoon on one end, a fork on the other and edge tines that were sharpened or serrated; knork, from knife and fork, that was like a knife with a single tine, sharpened or serrated, set into the anterior end of the blade and a spife, that was a combination spoon and knife.

I can promise you I did not make up any of these names.

Keith Barnes is a reporter and columnist for the Johnstonian News. Email him at kbarnes.jhn@wilsontimes.com.

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