A while ago, one of the Advice Column Wonder Twins reported that the way “polite” Americans use forks and knives stems from revolutionary times, when political arguements turned violent frequently. According to Dear Landers, keeping the knife on the table prevented its use as a weapon if a dinner discussion became heated enough to provoke fighting.
This sounded pretty fishy (my girlfriend said, “Couldn’t the hand on the lap hold a gun? That’s not polite.”). An earlier thread came to the conclusion that the practice started as an affectation so that colonial Americans (obessed with being cultured) could out-etiquette each other. Snopes and UrbanLengends.com were of no help (for once). The Landers Syndicate isn’t known for veracity, but could they have cut to the truth?
For those who don’t know, Americans silverware etiquette is as follows: The fork is held in the right hand, and the left hand is kept on the lap, unless one needs to cut something. Then, the left hand leaves the lap and takes the fork, and the right hand holds the knife. It’s pretty awkward. Some might say it’s pointless.