The Problem of the Runcible Spoon (a bit of Writer Archeology)

Quite a while ago (late January of 2011, in fact) I wrote the following about runcible spoons and what they are and aren’t. At the time there was actually rather less Internet than there is now, and also a bit different flavor of Wild West to it all, so I’ve had to make a few edits and and had to unlink due to the disappearance of one of my reference sites. But imagine my surprise when I was suddenly getting hits from my old WordPress site (which hasn’t been active since 2018) this week. It seems artist and teacher Jenie Yolland has copy-pasted my little research rant because they have a deep and abiding love for Sam Neil’s reading of The Owl and the Pussycat, and an interest in weird table utensils. And all that is utterly fine with me, so, without further ado, here is a slightly updated version of what I said about runcible spoons way back when:

Ah the Runcible spoon, which rose to fame in the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” is not, in fact, the poet’s invention–no matter what the internet says. How do I know this?

Because I read Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson in college. There’s a scene in the diary wherein Boswell and Dr. Johnson have stopped at an inn while traveling and they must provide their own utensils while they eat from a shared bowl. Boswell is put out that he has only his belt knife and cannot keep up with the prodigious gobbling pace of Johnson who has a “Runcible’s spoon”. This invention of a man named Runcible (no, his first name isn’t mentioned that I recall, but I’d bet on “John” just to be perverse) is described by Boswell as a long handle with a spoon bowl at one end and fork at the other, and one sharpened edge to make a small knife (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten if it was the spoon or the fork that had the sharpened side). Boswell is interested in Runcible’s invention and though Johnson finds it a bit of a challenge, it’s a huge step up from making do with a belt knife and fingers as Boswell has to do.

Johnson predates Edward Lear by a considerable time. That the internet has widely reported the story of the Runcible spoon as an invention of Lear’s does not, in fact, make it true. It’s the invention of Runcible.

And although it is sometimes mislabled a “spork,” it is, in fact, a variation on Mr. Runcible’s spoon. (The Slightly Less Than Official Spork Page claims “’Spork’ is the colloquial term for `Runcible Spoon’” but the spork doesn’t usually have a sharpened edge and there’s no knife edge on the official patent design.) The original must have had a longer and more distinct handle, but still… a spoon bowl, fork tines, and one sharpened edge…. Plainly a Runcible’s spoon. You can imagine how swank Dr. Johnson must have been to own such a marvel in the Eighteenth Century. Very, very swank! No sharing germs with the peons for Dr. Johnson! No burning his fingers snatching bits of meat out of the stew pot with his unaided hand.

And, in spite of what my parents told me, a central-pivot salad tongs is also not a Runcible spoon. Just isn’t. Sorry. Not to mention how could the Owl and Pussycat ever have eaten “mince and slices of quince” with a salad tongs? Ridiculous. But with a Runcible spoon? Easy as… well, as pie. Om nom nom!

Also, the poem wouldn’t have rhymed very well with “spork.”

A pair of silver-colored salad tongs, which look like a giant pair of scissors with a spoon bowl and a large fork where the blades ought to be


Baseball in Early Los Angeles

I’ve been doing a little reserch into what people did for fun in the Los Angeles area during the 1920s and ’30s. And it seems that Angelinos were wild about baseball! Who knew?

From the early 1900s through the 1930s, Los Angeles had as many as 5 baseball fields operating simultaneously. Most hosted multiple teams from “Negro league,” “Mexican league,” Japanese-American, and all-white organizations, including the then-Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars. Baseball was a hot ticket starting in the early 1910s, and famous National League teams, like the Boston Red Sox, visited town to play against their Pacific League associates, as did traveling teams from various other leagues. Some of the fields came and went—one even changed location twice when the Vernon Tigers moved from Vernon to Venice and back again. And I mean they actually moved the whole stadium—but there was always someone playing ball somewhere.

If you were a baseball fan in that period, you could watch a live game any day of the year, at a selection of venues now-vanished, including Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field (owned and built by the same chewing-gum magnate who owned the Chicago Cubs), Washington Field, and White Sox Ball Park in what is now South Central LA, which promoted Winter League play among non-white leagues, and offered games “Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays.”

Baseball was so popular that visiting dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities would join the crowd to watch a game, rubbing shoulders with ordinary joes and janes at any ball park in town.


Black and white arieal photo of Washington Park baseball field circa 1924
(1924)- Aerial view of Washington Park, home of the Los Angeles Angels until 1926, when the team moved to Wrigley Field. Hill Street is visible parallel to 1st base line while Washington Blvd. is to the right. From 1903 through 1957, the Los Angeles Angels were one of the mainstays of the Pacific Coast League, winning the PCL pennant 12 times. The Angels, along with the Portland Beavers, Oakland Oaks, Sacramento Solons, San Francisco Seals, and Seattle Indians were charter members of the Pacific Coast League which was founded in 1903. Photo and information linked from
Black and White photo of wooden facade of old baseball field, circa1939. Foreground is cluttred with people, cars and vendor carts. The wall behind them reads
(ca. 1939) – View showing customers and vendors outside the White Sox Baseball Park in South Los Angeles. Sign on the stadium says “Winter League grand opening Oct. 9th.1939. Home of the Colored Elite Giants, White Sox Park.” Italian American brothers, John and Joe Pirrone, used their earnings from their wholesale fruit business to purchase the land to build White Sox Park in 1924. Joe Pirrone organized the California Winter League to lure Negro League teams to southern California to play against local semi-pro teams and minor league teams, including Japanese American and Mexican American teams. During the 1920s African Americans were barred from playing in Pacific Coast League parks including Wrigley Field and Gilmore Field in Los Angeles. According to William McNeil, “The California Winter League was apparently intended as a showcase for Negro league baseball. White Sox Park, which was strategically located in the predominantly black sections of the city, hosted the majority of league games.” Some of these teams included the Kansas City Royals and Monarchs, Philadelphia Giants, Detroit Giants and Nashville Royal Giants. There were also all-black teams from the sandlots of Los Angeles, such as the Royal Giants, Colored Giants, Monarchs, Stars and many others. White Sox Park was also the home of Mexican American baseball teams. Mexican American baseball teams and leagues dotted the southern California landscape “working to play, playing to work.” El Paso Shoe Store from San Gabriel fielded one of the strongest teams called, “Los Zapateros,” that played a majority of its games in White Sox Park. Hollywood celebrities, city political figures and the Mexican Consul attended games at White Sox Park. Information and photo linked from

*Author’s note: I was interested to see that in the photo of White Sox Park, the men in the foreground are a mix of white and non-white, though I only see one hat that might have been sheltering a woman. For more interesting photos of Baseball in Early LA, click on the photos or the links provided under the photos to go to the Water And Power Associates Baseball History page.