There is an etiquette of placing knife and fork on a plate while resting or after finishing. For example this cheat-sheet (there are a lot of texts and images like this on the web): knife & fork language

I found this tradition mentioned in a 1858 year book:

On another occasion she refused to be introduced to a gentleman because at a dinner party in handing his plate to a waiter he had laid his knife and fork straight, instead of crossed, upon it; and after concluding the meal, instead of placing his knife and fork in parallel lines beside his plate, he had been so vulgar as to leave both knife and fork crossed upon his plate.

So I assume it is an old tradition. What are its origins? Are there any written sources of it?

  • I had heard it had been introduced in from Italy in the 16th C. I don't know how true this is, though. Jul 7, 2015 at 21:18
  • @MoziburUllah is probably referring to chapter 5 of this book: it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galateo_overo_de%27_costumi (english: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Il_Galateo) [but I just read it and there is no mention of cutlery]
    – Federico
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:27
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    Courld it be in the 18th century? Louis XIV still didn't use forks because they weren't part of the etiquette in his time. Sep 13, 2017 at 21:23
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    I find it almost impossible to accept this as other than a very local etiquette. Proper usage of cutlery has always varied on opposite sides of the Atlantic, for English speaking eaters, and between England and the Continent. Only the most snobbish of eaters would have even thought these habits to be universal. My parents were raised in (slightly) upper middle class homes, in Montreal and Rotterdam. My father was astonished to discover, in Montreal, that several cutlery etiquettes were reversed from his upbringing in the Netherlands. Mar 29, 2018 at 22:38
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    As an American (raised in a poor rural area) I'm surprised to discover that such a thing actually exists.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 12, 2021 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


There is evidence that an opposite etiquette prevailed in the 1840-1900 time period.

Night and Morning (1841, UK):

she crossed her knife and fork, and pushed away her plate, in token that she had done supper

"Female Education" in The Popular Educator (1856, UK):

When she has finished her dinner, say of meat and potatoes, she lays her knife and fork. close together, obliquely across the plate

Martine's Hand-book of Etiquette: And Guide to True Politeness (1866, US):

after you have finished your dinner, cross the knife and fork on the plate, that the servant may take all away

Good Manners: A Manual of Etiquette in Good Society (1870, US):

after you have finished your dinner, cross the knife and fork on the plate, that the servant may take all away

The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1874, US):

after you have finished your dinner, cross the knife and fork on the plate, that the servant may take all away

Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society (1891, US):

Do not cross your knife and fork upon your plate until you have finished.

In any case, the OP etiquette was not at all universal in the 1840-1900 period and many sources describe the opposite tradition.

An early mention of the objection to crossing the knife and fork is in the 8 March 1711 Spectator volume 1, number 7.

I dispatched my Dinner as soon as I could, with my usual Taciturnity; when, to my utter Confusion, the Lady seeing me quitting my Knife and Fork, and laying them across one another upon my Plate, desired me that I would humour her so far as to take them out of that Figure, and place them side by side. What the Absurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I suppose there was some traditionary Superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the Lady of the House, I disposed of my Knife and Fork in two parallel Lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any Reason for it.

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    Just for clarification - are these all US customs? In the UK, the only ones I was taught were - knife and fork in a ^ (inverted "V") indicated you weren't finished - so your dinner wasn't whisked away! - and knife and fork laid diagonally side by side - // - to indicate you had finished. I know of no others, though there might be.
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 30, 2018 at 13:37
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    @TheHonRose I edited to specify which country. The first two references are UK.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 30, 2018 at 13:58
  • Thanks. It's interesting, the first one, crossing the knife and fork, IIRC, would have been considered rude when I was growing up. Autre temps, autre mores!
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 30, 2018 at 16:00

“Crossing your knife and fork” means placing them parallel next to each other across the middle of the plate at 6:30 position. It does not mean making an X shape with them. It traditionally indicates that you have finished and the plate may be collected by servants or a waiter.

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    Welcome to the site @kennethMurray - I'm trying to wrap my mind around why the term "crossing" would be used to describe the action of "placing them parallel". This is a case where sources are the only option to disambiguate.
    – MCW
    Mar 12, 2021 at 14:08

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