1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fork
FORK (Lat. furca), an implement formed of two or more prongs at the end of a shaft or handle, the most familiar type of which is the table-fork for use in eating. In agriculture and horticulture the fork is used for pitching hay, and other green crops, manure, &c.; commonly this has two prongs, “tines”; for digging, breaking up surface soil, preparing for hand weeding and for planting the three-pronged fork is used. The word is also applied to many objects which are characterized by branching ends, as the tuning-fork, with two branching metal prongs, which on being struck vibrates and gives a musical note, used to give a standard of pitch; to the branching into two streams of a river, or the junction where a tributary runs into the main river; and in the human body, to that part where the legs branch off from the trunk.
The furca, two pieces of wood fastened together in the form of the letter Λ, was used by the Romans as an instrument of punishment. It was placed over the shoulders of the criminal, and his hands were fastened to it, condemned slaves were compelled to carry it about with them, and those sentenced to be flogged would be tied to it; crucifixions were sometimes carried out on a similar shaped instrument. From the great defeat of the Romans by the Samnites at the battle of the Caudine Forks (Furculae Caudinae), a narrow gorge, where the vanquished were compelled to pass under the yoke (jugum), as a sign of submission, the expression “to pass through or under the forks” has been loosely used of such a disgraceful surrender. The “forks” in any allusion to this defeat should refer to the topographical name and not to the jugum, which consisted of two upright spears with a third placed transversely as a cross-bar.