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Is there a difference in meaning when used in a technical context? For example, does a fork latch in a recess when pressed or does it catch in the recess?

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Depends entirely on the "technical context" -- English language only defines the verbs latch and catch as in the dictionaries. – Kris Nov 27 '12 at 13:02
If something isn't holding the fork in place in the recess, I would say that the fork "catches" in the recess. "Catches" here is a synonym for "snags; gets stuck." To be of better help, can you give some more description of the fork and the recess. – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 13:14
The context is: mounting instructions for hardware for sliding doors made of glass. I have written: "Tension the dampers of the damper and soft closing device. To do this, push the driving forks into the end position until they catch in the recess." (The expression "damper and soft closing device" is fixed and prescribed by the customer.)Is this description understandable with accompanying pictures / drawings? – lucy Nov 27 '12 at 13:42

"settles" in a groove has a more permanent connotation than "catches" in a groove, which, to me, seems more like "snags".

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The verb latch is today used only with on following it, not with in, like:

Once you latch on to some hare-brained scheme, you never let go, do you?

The OED says that using latch to mean to catch in something like a receptacle is now obsolete or dialectal, and provides these old examples:

  • 1601 Holland Pliny I. 301 ― Vnlesse there be good heed taken that the eggs be latched in some soft bed vnder‐neath, they are soone broken.
  • 1639 Horn & Rob. Gate Lang. Unl. xxxv. §415 ― A dairy-maid milketh out milk latching it in a milk-paile.
  • 1639 Horn & Rob. Gate Lang. Unl. xli. §445 ― The droppings, or any thing else spilt by chance, is latcht in a latch-pan.

There is another dialectal use meaning to alight or settle, as in:

  • 1871 East Anglian IV. 111 ― The Golden crested Wren, often caught by the hand while ‘latching’ in the rigging.

I strongly encourage you to use catch here, not latch, unless you are trying to represent dialect or archaic speech.

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What if he wants to say that a latch holds the fork in place? – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 13:33
@tylerharms That is a noun, not a verb. – tchrist Nov 27 '12 at 13:39
I know. A latch. But doesn't a latch latch shut? – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 13:49
I don't think it latches into is at all archaic/dialectal when it means "connects securely" (of a fastening, for example). – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '12 at 18:16
@FumbleFingers Surely "latch in" ≠ "latch into". Please check your OED2 for latch (verb 1), and see whether you disagree with any of that. – tchrist Nov 27 '12 at 18:36

If there is no mechanism that holds the forks in place, if they just stay fast by design, I would use the passive construction "are secured."

"Until the forks are secured in the recess" makes it clear that, by whatever method of retention, the forks maintain their position in the recess.

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enter image description here

So far as I'm concerned, the brackets there (the horizontal supports under each shelf) latch into the standards (the long vertical slotted strips fastened to the wall).

In this particular example there are lots of "recesses/grooves" in the uprights. But in, say, a track lighting system, the bulb holder may fit into an extended groove - in which case you normally latch it in by pushing it in in one orientation, then twisting it by 90° to secure it.

Here are some written instances of "which latches into", where in most cases it's fairly obviously describing some physical component being "locked" into a position within an assembly.

To my way of thinking, catch usually implies inadvertently get caught up/snagged, so I wouldn't use that word in OP's context, where latch, lock, click, snap are all reasonable alternatives.

Having said that, in the "negative" version of OP's example, I think catch can actually work better. Suppose he's trying to secure his "locking fork" into the "locating recess" - but failing because of clumsiness / manufacturing defects / worn parts / whatever. In that case, he could quite reasonably say "Fiddlesticks! I can't get the fork to catch in the slot!"

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A latch is a specific closure requiring a securing arm. See this quite old image of a latch: meadowforge.co.uk/upcot%20barton%20door%20latch001.JPG The shelving brackets use grooves, and the shelving arms are just designed to fit securely in the grooves. There is no latching action. The word needs to describe that fastening action the arm makes when locking into the groove. – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 19:52
@tylerharms: That's just your opinion. As I said in my answer, so far as I'm concerned, there are lots of "fastenings" involving two components that can easily be brought together, where the "locking" process can reasonably be described as "latching". I certainly don't need dictionaries or Google to tell me what "a latch" is. – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '12 at 21:02
It's definitely not my opinion that a latch uses a securing arm to hold something in place. If you asked for a shelf that attached with a latch or by latching, you would not get a shelf that snapped or slid into place. As per one of your examples: "A tumbler usually consists of a small lever, one end of which has a little projection, which latches into a notch cut into the bolt, and is kept down by a spring." This describes a latch arm. The OP is asking about something that doesn't use any kind of arm to hold something in place. The thing just sticks. – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 21:35
@tylerharms: We seem to be at cross purposes. I know that one half of a fastening called "a latch" can often be described as "a securing arm". That's got no real relevance to other uses of the word "latch". You wouldn't use the word "arm", for example, when talking about a Yale lock, but that particular "fastener" is always being left on the latch. – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '12 at 21:46
No, you probably wouldn't, but I don't think door locks where you throw the bolt with a key or a turning knob are technically latches--and apparently, amazingly, EL&U has a post about it--although we use "left on the latch." cheers. – tylerharms Nov 27 '12 at 22:03

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