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The dining fork was ridiculed in 17th-century England. When a roast was served at the table, diners took turns steadying it with the fingers of one hand and cutting off servings with a knife in the other. Kitchen forks for handling meat had been known to the ancient Greeks, but dining forks probably first appeared in the royal courts of the Middle East in the seventh century AD. The utensil traveled to Italy in the 1500s. In the early 1600s, an English tourist named Thomas Coryate observed Italian diners using forks of iron, steel, or silver when they cut their meat. Coryate adopted the Italian fashion, though his compatriots largely resisted. Forks spread slowly in England. Two-tined forks were used at first. Three tines made more sense, and four tines were the norm by the late 1800s.

Source: ''The Evolution of Useful Things,' by Henry Petroski (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)

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