Fork in the Road

By Cyberquill 11/26/201116 Comments

When you come to a fork in the road, take it out.

For whatever reason, somebody may have driven a salad fork into the blacktop. Or a pitchfork. A visual artist may have done it. Or a savage road killer.

A construction worker worker may have accidentally dropped a fork into the smoldering asphalt mix during his lunch break, whereupon the hapless piece of cutlery merged with the bituminous brew and thus ended up a fork in the road.

What else might a “fork in the road” conceivably be?

Picture your standard-issue dinner fork: it consists of a handle which, at one end, terminates into several pointed prongs called tines:

Now imagine an ant padding along the fork’s handle in a tinesbound direction until it reaches the point where the tines begin and the critter must select one of them if it wants to continue its peregrination without turning around—does it make sense to say the ant has now reached the fork?

Of course not. It hasn’t reached the fork. It’s been walking on the fork—to wit on its handle—all along. The ant reached the fork the moment it set foot on the handle, not the moment it arrived at the tines and had to make a choice.

Entering your dining room upon having traversed the kitchen to get there, you don’t say you’ve reached your house. You’re in your house.

And the only way to get to that which is commonly called a “fork in the road,” i.e., a point where the road splits into two or more, is via the part of the road that leads up to that point, i.e., the fork’s own handle, i.e., the fork itself.

When you come to a so-called “fork in the road,” what you actually come to is a point where you realize that the road you’re on is of the forked variety—that the road is a fork. (Not all roads are. Some roads never split.)

If, pars pro toto, you wish to refer as a “fork” only to the part of a fork where the tines originate, then what do you call the parts that lead up to and away from there respectively? Are you going to call the handle “handle,” the tines “tines,” and the part in between “fork”?

Then I might as well restrict my personal definition of “fork” to its handle. So then, when you say “reached a fork,” I’ll say “left the fork.”

In his poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost laments that “two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” Whether it failed to fit his verse meter, or whether he understood that there’s really no such thing—at least not in the figurative sense—as coming to a fork in the road, Mr Frost notably spared us this troublesome expression. Sadly, though, those discussing the poem tend to sum it up as being about a man reaching a you-know-what.

Whatever the word may be for that part of a fork which resides between its handle and its tines, that’s what people reach when they come to a “fork in the road.”

The only forks in roads anyone has ever come to were actual hardware utensils that had been rammed into or buried in those roads, either accidentally or by design.

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  • Peter Practice

    The holiday season is coming up, things slow down and the mind wanders into rarely walked territory. Your post is indeed a sign of the tines.

    P.S. When will your Austrian exile end?

    Peter Practice

    • Cyberquill

      The length of my exile is inversely proportional to my net worth in dollars, so let me plug the numbers into my little equation here … OK, that comes out to an exile of exactly ∞ more years. 

  • Cheriblocksabraw

    Will you write another funny post like this one on the idiom
    “cut to the chase” ?
    Most people have no idea where this phrase originated.

    It’s a film term.

    • Cyberquill

      Yes, it’s a film term. Chase or screw, depending on the genre. But I don’t have a problem with the phrase, so I wouldn’t know what to write about it. 

  • Andreas

    You could make a series out of this: in each post you ferociously attack and slay one tired idiom or metaphor. Then you bind them together and you have your book. 

    • Cyberquill

      Sounds good. I’ll call it Jihad: My Holy War on Tripe in Writing. I’ll go ahead and copyright the title for now. 

  • Testazyk

    I tried to understand the nuances of this post but couldn’t figure out what the fork you are talking about 🙂

    PS I agree with Andreas that a series in which you deconstruct idioms would be enlightening and entertaining.

    • Cyberquill

      You understood the nuances perfectly well. Don’t spoon with me. 

      • Testazyk

        Just knifing around, sorry.

        • jackalopekid

          haha. got a kick out of this thread

  • Spencer McDonald

    My fork in the road ends at the tomato in my mixed dinner salad with blue cheese dressing.

    • Cyberquill

      Sounds like you’re eating your salad out of a pothole. 

  • Jay Schwartz

    Wonderful! I always appreciate somewhere who speaks with a forked tongue! I took a stab at it once myself, but … well, the cat got it … and the fork, too! Happy Holidays!

    • Cyberquill

      Yep, cats are notorious forklifters. Happy Days to you, too! 

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