Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
The word “fork” looks like it might be good Anglo-Saxon, on the analogy of “work.” The assumption is wrong, however. “Fork” comes to us, as does the rhyming “pork,” from Latin sources. “Fork” is based on furca, the word Romans used for a pitchfork.
The pointy bits on a fork are tines, a word that is solid AS. Over the centuries the number of tines on a standard fork has varied. Fork-using cultures settled on a four-tine implement as the public standard in the early 19th century.
The adoption of the four-tine standard set the stage for a hidden eggcorn. Some folks, it seems, started to hear “four” in “fork.” It comes out of hiding in the (not uncommon) spelling “fourk.”
A book I’m reading now mentions the well-known (not to me) story of a toddler who, when presented with a three-tine dessert fork, pronounced it a “threek.”