- by David Park Williams
Months ago I pointed out to Editor Tom Dodd that the illustration he is foisting upon us as a pitchfork is not a pitchfork at all. It’s an implement often found in cow shed and stable but hardly ever in meadow and loft. I said, “A pitchfork has two or three tines, not four.” After thanking me for my input, Tom––as is his wont––did absolutely nothing to correct this egregious error.
Here and now I intend to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what a pitchfork is, using only sources I have kicking about the house. I don’t have the Internet, Web, Google or Yahoo. In my world, fish have Nets and spiders have Webs. Google is the patronymic of Barney Google “with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes.” (I assume that Barney cleans up after his horse Spark Plug.) A Yahoo is a kind of troglodyte inhabiting the land of those noble equines, the Houyhnhnms. (I also assume that the Yahoos clean up after the Houyhnhnms.) For my research I have consulted only those antiquated relics of a bygone age: books. If Tom would only leave his modems, mice, and monitors long enough to peer, if ever so briefly, into a good old-fashioned book we would, all of us, benefit immeasurably.
The Oxford English Dictionary, known to its friends as the OED: says, “Pitchfork, 1452. sb. A long-handled fork with two sharp prongs for lifting and pitching hay, straw, or sheaves.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, known to its friends as Webster 3: says, “Pitchfork. n. A usu. Long-handled fork typically with two or three long somewhat curved tines for pitching hay or straw or similar material.” (Emphases added.) The perceptive reader will observe that the OED limits the number of tines to two; thus the OED is a two-tiner. Webster’s Third speaks of “Two or three tines.” Webster 3 is, as one would expect, a three-tiner. Neither of these august lexicons speaks of four tines to a pitchfork.
Nineteenth century illustrations show only two tines on a pitchfork. Here are two examples. Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle, Berkshire Traveler Press, Stockbridge, Mass. 1898, shows a two-tined pitchfork (at right).
Likewise, The Sandman: His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins, E.C. Page & Company, Boston, 1902, (below) shows a haymaker using a two-tined pitchfork.
Now, what in the world is the function of the four-tined forks which Tom Dodd spreads all over his editorial page? Well, I once wielded a four-tined fork to clean up around stanchions or stalls. That, I believe, is its universal function. A pitchfork has a smaller number of tines so that the hay, with a deft twist of the laborer’s wrist, will slip off easily into hayrick or haymow. This operation would be cumbersome if not impossible with a four-tined fork.
Forsaking my antiquated home library I now determined to seek a 21st Century up-to-date hands-on down-to-earth source of information: Carpenter Brothers Hardware on Plymouth Mall, Ann Arbor, Michigan. There among the garden tools I found a number of forks. Every one of them had four shiny curved pointed tines just like the ones in Tom Dodd’s illustrations. I took one and copied the official, definitive label: 8938000 FORK, MANURE.
And that ain’t hay.