It's a spork!

I grew up with the Story Teller series. It was a staple of my childhood and I still have fond memories of nonsense poems, Aldo in Arcadia, and various well and lesser-known stories. This series has become something of a classic, with a magnificent cast and imaginative tales. I wish they would re-issue them. Among the nonsense poems was Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, which includes the couplet:
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
which they ate with a runcible spoon...
For years I wondered what a runcible spoon was. I must stress that it was never an intensely pressing matter that caused lack of sleep, digestive problems, or anything quite like that. In fact, so insignificant a matter was it that for two decades I didn't think to look it up, but I simply had my curiosity piqued whenever I heard the poem, (which was, of course, during my daily viewing of Anne of Green Gables, in which the poem featured in a performance at the White Sands Hotel). 'Just what is a runcible spoon?' I would wonder. 'What does runcible mean?' 'Is it a spoon that is able to be runced, following the same logic as a flexible rule(r), which is a rule that can be flexed? If so, what is it to runce?' I never found any answers.

Anyway, about half an hour or so ago, I decided to finally ease the tension of over twenty years and I did a Google image search for "runcible spoon". Imagine my surprise when my computer screen was suddenly plastered from top to bottom with a bunch of sporks! Yes, the elegantly-named runcible spoon is nothing more than the common spork, found in kitchens up and down the country, and no doubt across the world (except in this house, as we don't own any), issued for free in plastic form with take-away meals, pre-packaged pasta dishes in supermarkets, and tubs of pineapple chunks. At the risk of giving the appearance of channelling Victor Meldrew, I don't believe it! I feel cheated, as though I have been robbed of something magical which I have treasured since childhood, and had it replaced with something commonplace, mundane.

I am sure that most people were already aware of this and consider it common knowledge. Please forgive my ignorance. For those of you who did not know and are now wondering why, having been disappointed at the discovery, I have chosen to further disseminate this knowledge, I can only ask why I should have to suffer alone.

In order to alleviate the distress which will, no doubt, be caused by this calamitous revelation, let us put it from our minds and focus instead on the wonderful world of the Owl and the Pussycat.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
in a beautiful pea green boat,
they took some honey, and plenty of money,
wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
and sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
what a beautiful Pussy you are,
you are,
you are!
what a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
but what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
to the land where the Bong-tree grows
and there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
with a ring at the end of his nose,
his nose,
his nose,
with a ring at the end of his nose.


'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
by the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
which they ate with a runcible spoon;
and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
they danced by the light of the moon,
the moon,
the moon,
they danced by the light of the moon.


Post Scriptum: I have done some more searching for the meaning of the word runcible. I was interested to find that Chambers 21st Century Dictionary does not recognise it as a word other than as part of the phrase runcible spoon, and attributes it to Edward Lear. So I looked on Wikipedia and was tickled by the first paragraph of the entry for "runcible". I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

8 responses:

margaret said...

I have wondered off and for 40 years about runcible spoons and have never thought of googling it. It's a pity I have absolutely no reason to refer to sporks in every day conversation because I would so love to confuse people by saying runcible spoon instead. Be assured Miss Tilney and I are suffering with you; that's what friends are for.

Michael said...

Thank you, Margaret. Lady Perpetua and I appreciate your empathy and ask that you pass our thanks to Miss Tilney.

I have since added a PS. I think you'll enjoy it. I actually did laugh out loud.

Michael said...

Oh! Oh! And this.

Joe S.R. said...

When I was young, I thought a runcible spoon had something to do with Richard Runciman Terry, whose music we sang in school. I'm kind of sad that that turns out to not be true.( It would have made an interesting resume:Choir director, composer, inventor of the spork)

I know that poem from a collection of rhymes we had stateside.

Michael said...

Well, that would certainly make sense. One could eat and write notes at the same time with a handy utensil like the spork.

It seems that it genuinely was a nonsense word and that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the spoon in Lear's original illustration, any more than there was about the runcible hat or runcible wall. It is only later that this made up nonsense was given respectability and "runcible spoon" was used to refer to sporks.

To be honest, I always thought spork was a very modern word, invented as part of the fast food culture, so it made sense to learn that it is the same as a runcible spoon, which I assumed to be the older name. However, some more digging reveals that spork goes back over a century, so it may well be older as a name for the utensil in question. I wonder what it would have been called before that.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Michael, you crack me up ! I would never have thought of googling runcible spoon !

I have to say, it sounds so much more classy than the dreadful spork...........

Thank you for the delightful links :-)

margaret said...

I laughed aloud at "Oh, no, it's that horrible pig we met on our honeymoon!"

Michael said...

Glad to have provided amusement. :-)

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