Amusing excerpt from Bill Bryson’s book “At Home: a short history of private life” a book that i’d really like to get –
The arrival of the dining room marked a change not only in where the food was served, but in how it was eaten and when. For one thing, forks were now suddenly becoming common. Originally an agricultural implement, “fork” didn’t take on a food sense until the mid-15th century, and then it described a large implement used to pin down a bird or joint for carving. The person credited with introducing the eating fork to England wasThomas Coryate, an author and traveller from the time of Shakespeare who was famous for walking huge distances – to India and back on one occasion – and who also introduced English readers to a new device called the umbrella.
Eating forks were thought comically dainty and unmanly – and dangerous, too, come to that. Since they had only two sharp tines, the scope for spearing one’s lip or tongue was great, particularly if one’s aim was impaired by wine and jollity. Manufacturers experimented with additional numbers of tines – sometimes as many as six – before settling, late in the 19th century, on four as the number with which people seemed most comfortable. Why four should induce the optimum sense of security isn’t easy to say, but it does seem to be a fundamental fact of flatware psychology.
You can read more of it here