During a trip to the US I realised that many Americans have never heard the word cutlery before ... however some have. Where in the English speaking world (and in particular where in the US) is this is a common term for knives, forks and spoons?

  • 1
    It is perhaps not the most commonly spoken-of thing in the world, so it’s hard to judge with any kind of precision; but I don’t recall ever meeting a native speaker, American or otherwise, who did not know what cutlery is. It’s a perfectly normal, though perhaps not overly common, word to me in all varieties of English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 28 '14 at 20:25
  • Ah well I certainly have met Americans who didn't know. In British English it is the standard term and so I would guess that it is in standard usage in many former colonies too... maybe? – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 20:26
  • @FumbleFingers My question is really a geographical one that is not covered in that other question. I suspect that one could draw a map that would contain the answer. – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 21:27
  • @ Anush: I don't know why you say that. The accepted (and highly-upvoted) answer (and comments) on that one repeatedly make the point about a US/UK difference. In fact, although the OP there might have thought he was going to be given a semantic difference, practically all the responses are concerned with the regional difference. – FumbleFingers Jan 28 '14 at 21:33

In the United States, cutlery is a formal (read: pretentious) word for cutting and peeling implements, that is, knives and paring utensils. I am primarily familiar with it from department store signs, and perhaps the decline of department store shopping contributes to its declining usage, like calling bed and bath goods domestics.

Cutlery in the British sense encompasses all eating and serving utensils, for which most Americans would say silverware or flatware, regardless of shape or material. This usage of silverware sets it apart from other types of -ware which refer to the material (e.g. glassware, plasticware) or the use of the item (e.g. housewares, giftware).

Martha Stewart calls it flatware, and that is good enough for me.

| improve this answer | |
  • Spoons really aren't flat :) – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 21:38
  • @Anush Spoons really don't cut either :). – choster Jan 28 '14 at 21:39
  • 1
    @choster True; most Americans are exposed to the term cutlery only when they're shopping for wedding presents... – Gnawme Jan 28 '14 at 21:39
  • @choster :) I think the addition of spoons and forks to the list of cutlery was as a result of domestic eating habits eating changing. – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 21:44
  • 1
    @Anush You're making quite an assumption on the basis of one usage in one advert. Very often, manufacturers and distributers follow their own styles. This is certainly true in the field of (especially Victorian say) furniture, where similar pieces are often invested with different grandiose terms (eg chiffonier / cupboard / chest of drawers / buffet). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 28 '14 at 22:46

Macmillan flags cutlery as "mainly British," and goes on to note that the usual American word is silverware. (Which apparently has other connotations in British English.)

Another chiefly American synonym is flatware.

| improve this answer | |
  • What do Americans call cutlery that is not silver? – Tristan r Jan 28 '14 at 21:21
  • I am not sure it is the same in every state in the US. – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 21:28
  • 2
    @Tristanr Plastic silverware? – WS2 Jan 28 '14 at 21:33
  • WS2, that's a good guess but, doesn't cover cutlery made of other materials. – Tristan r Jan 28 '14 at 21:37
  • 1
    @PeterShor The most common British usage for cutlery just refers to implements used for eating, such as knives, forks and spoons. I suppose the use of (table) forks and spoons for eating post-dates the cutler. – Anush Jan 28 '14 at 21:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.