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

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up vote 20 down vote accepted

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
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
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
@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
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

When confronted with an unfamiliar word or usage, I try to trace roots. The British use of "crockery" is vexing in this regard, because a crock is a large earthenware jug or jar, something which would not even appear on a table. Earthenware is thick, heavy, not particularly beautiful... So the Brits generalize the word to refer to ceramic, china or even porcelain individual table setting pieces?!?

Another distinction no one seems to be clarifying is that when you wrote "implements used to serve food, to me "serve" means to walk in to the dining room with a big dish. So an implement for that purpose would and could be entirely different from one used to eat one's own food. In England, "serving" the food means standing in the kitchen putting it on to individual plates and in bowls - like in a restaurant. I have had to explain that to people in the US over and over. We seem to have an entirely different notion of that process. To me, a common dish in the middle of the table could well be "crockery", as it might be made of a much heavier material than my individual plate.

These differences are best illustrated by my favorite example: In England, the Royal Mail organization delivers the Post (the letters) and in the US, the Postal Service delivers the Mail. Did we come from England or what?

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The first paragraph is an answer, the rest sounds like a mighty peeve against the US. Where does the Original Poster mention anything about "implements" and "serve" in their question? – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '14 at 14:31

protected by tchrist Nov 30 '14 at 17:54

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