Knife, fork, spoon: This is the holy trinity of silverware and (while the occasional spork may jostle for inclusion), in general, these are all you’re likely to see. There is, however, another hybrid utensil you may not know: The Knork. And its creation owes as much to modern medicine as to dining habits.

Commenter Brightmotor brought up the knork today, in response to this post on science fiction technologies, saying:

After the civil war, a dude invented a combo knife/fork that could be used by amputees to eat without changing utensils constantly. It worked really well and gave a lot of people the ability to eat meals in a convenient fashion. Aside from sandwiches, there weren’t a lot of dishes that could be eaten with only one hand, and even those sandwiches weren’t full meals that can be juggled while driving and texting. Basically like hors d’oevres made for snacking at overstuffed parties for the oblivious wealthy people of the time.

The knork exists. It’s not the domain of scifi and fantasy. If something so improbable and fantastic as the knork can be, then who’s to say the rest of the flights of fancy from never to forever cannot? The future is not only here, it has never been anywhere else.

The knork was, indeed, connected to wartime medicine — most particularly to British naval admiral, Horatio Nelson. Nelson led a number of important charges in the wars with Napoleon, one of which, the Battle of the Nile in 1798, cost him his arm in a hasty — and completely unanesthetized — amputation performed aboard a ship. The recovery from the operation was extremely difficult and for months following the operation, Nelson was in constant pain. The pain eventually, and thankfully, subsided.

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But with the pain finally gone, Nelson now was faced with the task of re-learning how to accomplish his daily tasks, with once-simple tasks turning into daily challenges. One of those daily tasks was maneuvering a knife and fork with only one hand. Eventually, Nelson was gifted a golden knork by the British army. It was so successful, that other soldiers also began requesting and receiving their own knorks (though theirs were ungilded), which they also started calling “Nelson forks”.

Rehabilitation and treatment practices have come a long way since Nelson’s amputation resulted in the popularization of the knork. But it was an important step at the time to move towards greater efforts at pushing recovery not just in simple medical terms, but also in terms of finding ways to ease the transition back into daily life.

Image: World War I era knork / Science Museum London