The table fork (c. 950- ) is like a spoon but it has three to four tines that look like the teeth of a comb though they are longer and spaced farther apart. Forks are used in eating to pick up meat and vegetables from your plate. Westerners use forks to eat instead of fingers or chopsticks.
In the West table forks are taken for granted, but the Romans did not have them. Even after they appeared it took hundreds of years for them to catch on.
No one knows where the first fork appeared. In ancient times the Romans had large kitchen forks for cooking but as far as we know they did not use them for eating.
Table forks appeared in the Byzantine empire in the late 900s and in Italy by the 1000s. But it did not catch on in Italy till the 1300s. It was brought to France in the 1500s and to England in the 1600s. Forks were not in common use in America till the middle 1800s!
At first using forks was seen as affected and unmanly. And if you wanted to use one you had to bring your own. Only the rich used them at the start.
The first table forks were flat and had only two tines. They were used mainly to cut and eat meat. You would use the fork to hold the meat still and cut off a piece with your knife.
In England forks were flat till the middle 1700s. They did not get the third and fourth tines till the 1800s. With more tines they could be used to pick up food from your plate and be used for more than just eating meat. It was then that forks caught on in America.
Before forks came in, knives had a point at the end so you could stick them into the piece of meat you wanted to eat and put it in your mouth. When forks became common, the end of the knife became rounded.
But these these knives with the round end came to America before the fork was in general use. That meant that after cutting off a piece of meat Americans had to move their spoon from one hand to the other to pick up the piece of meat and put it in their mouth.
When Americans started using forks in the 1800s they used them like spoons. That is why Americans and Europeans use forks and knives differently. Right-handed Europeans keep the fork in the left hand when eating meat.
In the 1900s the fork gave rise to the spork – half spoon, half fork, used by the military and fast food places.
In China meat is cut up into small pieces when it is cooked. That allows chopsticks to be used instead of forks.
In much of the world fingers are still used. Those who do it say food tastes better that way.