Lynne Murphy m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Mon Sep 7 10:31:17 UTC 2009

I think Tesco is just being idiotic and there is no such law referring to
cutlery.  Most shops that have (BrE) take-away/(AmE) to-go food have
plastic knives, forks and spoons available for one to take.  Tesco has a
reputation as a cheapskate company, so I wouldn't be surprised if they
overinterpret the law.

There's some discussion of cutlery v(s) silverware on my blog, if it's of

In terms of gross misrepresentations (or wild imaginings) of British law
that I've heard from America recently, this one is rather tame!  ;-)


--On 06 September 2009 21:35 -0400 Mark Mandel <Mark.A.Mandel at GMAIL.COM>

> An English friend of mine, K., wrote in his blog:
> ===
> I went into Tesco [a very large retail chain] today and among other
> things I picked up a couple of teaspoons. I then used the "self service"
> checkouts, where the customer scans their own purchases. To my surprise a
> young lady came up and asked if I had bought alcohol. No, no alcohol. Oh,
> on checking the list she said "spoons!" Spoons? Yes, she confirmed, you
> have to be over 18 to buy any cutlery. What special damage am I supposed
> to be able to do with a teaspoon if I'm under 18?
> ===
> One commenter (A) speculated that "this is because Tesco's system lumps
> all cutlery together and doesn't have a "knife" category [rather] than
> because spoons are legally restricted."
> I wondered if the relevant law uses the word "cutlery" in an older sense,
> meaning something like "things that cut", and the supermarket software
> has a more modern sense, what I call "flatware". Here is OED's
> definition, in its entirety, supported by citations ranging from c1449
> all the way up to 1846.
> ===
> a. The art or trade of the cutler[*]. b. collect. Articles made or sold by
> cutlers, as knives, scissors, etc. Also attrib.
> ---
> * [Cutler: "One who makes, deals in, or repairs knives and similar cutting
> utensils."]
> ===
> Merriam Webster agrees, mostly:
> ===
> 1 : the business of a cutler
> 2 : edged or cutting tools; specifically : implements for cutting and
> eating food
> ===
> I asked K and other U.K. participants: Does "cutlery" include spoons in
> your usual use of the word? Or is it an everyday word for you at all?
> The answers were affirmative, although the word itself doesn't seem to be
> part of the law (TM's comment, below). So the fault in the stores seems to
> lie with the program. But the dictionaries are lagging.
> ===
> K:
> Yes, in the usual sense of the word (and that used in shops as far as I've
> seen) it includes spoons and forks as wel as knives, it's a generic term
> for all eating utensils (but not usually things like ladles which come
> under the generic "kitchen utensils"). When I was a kid the generic was
> 'silverware' (and a lot of it did indeed have some silver, often as a
> plating, in its construction whereas ladles, carving knives, etc. were
> often steel or other materials), but even then we kept them all in a
> "cutlery drawer" in the kitchen. I've never understood 'flatware', since
> spoons and forks aren't very flat (nor are fishknives).
> I don't know what words are used in the actual law, I've only seen
> summaries of it, that's an interesting point.
> ---
> TM:
> The most applicable acts are
> The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (1959)
> (specifically to ban flick knives and similar)
> The Criminal Justice Act (1988)
> The Offensive Weapons Act (1996)
> The Knives Act (1997)
> None of which seem to mention "cutlery".
> And yes, "cutlery" is what's in the cutlery drawer and includes knives
> (regular, butter, fish and steak knives to name but four), forks (regular,
> salad, fish and dessert (or cake)), spoons (tea, soup, dessert and table)
> and close relatives of same.
> ---
> L:
> In the purely colloquial sense, yes, I would include knife, fork & spoon
> as cutlery (as in "I'll get the plates if you set out the cutlery").
> I was in Ikea the other day - there, you have to be 21 or over to buy a
> set of kitchen knives. I could see this being very inconvenient for an
> 18yr old just setting out in his first place after leaving school, or
> setting up in a flat for uni etc...
> ===
> Mark A. Mandel

Dr M Lynne Murphy
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
Arts B357
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN

phone: +44-(0)1273-678844

The American Dialect Society -

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