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What's the difference between 'cutlery', 'silverware' and 'crockery'? Are there any differences between them?

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Cutlery has two definitions: 1. cutting/edged implements used for serving or eating food; 2. eating utensils in general. Without further context, an American is likely to assume the first definition (knives), while a Brit is more likely to go for the generic meaning. Silverware also means eating utensils, especially silver-colored ones, though nowadays, most silverware is not actually made of silver. An American synonym that does not imply anything about the silver content (or lack thereof) is flatware.

Crockery is completely different: in British English usage, it means the things on the dinner table that are usually made of china or porcelain -- plates, bowls, saucers, cups, serving bowls, etc. In American English, crockery is used for certain earthenware cooking pots, but given enough context, an American would probably understand crockery used according to the British definition.

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As an American, I understand crockery in the British sense, although my first thought would be ceramic instead of china or porcelain. :) That might just be my family, though... –  kitukwfyer Dec 6 '10 at 22:46
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Lovely rundown of the distinctions! One extra thing I’d add: “silverware” in the general sense is, I think, less common in the UK than in the US — when I first moved to the States I found “plastic silverware” jarring, though it was clear what it meant. –  PLL Dec 6 '10 at 23:37
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Excellent answer, good that British/American meanings were clearly defined - as they differ a lot around cooking and food. I agree with PLL on the silverware word, in the UK we use that pretty much exclusively for actual silver. Note that it is not limited to cutlery either, silverware is used to refer to any item not purely decorative that is made of silver; a candelabra for instance. Stainless steel cutlery would definitely not be classed as silverware here. –  Orbling Dec 7 '10 at 0:41
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@Orbling: strange how each dialect is flexible on one word, but not on the other. An American has no problem expanding "silverware" to eating utensils of all materials, but wants to take the "cut" in "cutlery" literally; while a Brit has no problem expanding "cutlery" to include all eating utensils, but wants to take the "silver" in "silverware" literally. –  Marthaª Dec 7 '10 at 14:34
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I was once in a restaurant in the US and, for some reason, didn't have a knife or fork - so, being unaware of the variation in usage, I asked for "cutlery", to be met by a blank stare from the girl serving our table! I was then perplexed (again, unaware of the regional variations) to be told "Oh, you mean 'silverware'!", when I would have been quite happy with stainless steel. It is occasionally very surprising how two native speakers of nominally the same language can fail to communicate about everyday matters :-) –  psmears Jan 24 '11 at 14:16

I've always heard, and used, the terms thus: Cutlery only describes knives. Silverware (or simply "silver" here in the South), means eating utensils, regardless of their material (it's perfectly acceptable to refer to "plastic silverware," like what you would get with a to-go order from a restaurant). Crockery isn't really used in the US, to my knowledge. I know this word from my reading of books by British authors, but I don't know that I've ever heard it in the US. My understanding is that crockery would only mean plates, bowls and cups used at the table.

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Interesting to learn the colloquial uses in the South. The usage of silverware is odd to include any substance. –  Orbling Dec 7 '10 at 0:42

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