“Psst! Hey! Wanna fork?”


OK, you may not think that joke has legs, but the Dictionary of Archaic Words does. Look: it defines furchure as “The place where the thighs part; sometimes, the legs.”

Now, when I first read that, I thought, “Well, yeah, the legs are where the thighs part – where else did you have in mind? And, sure, the thighs are part of the legs.” But then I thought a bit longer and it became clearer. You can use furchure to refer to the fork in the body – you know, the exact wishbone point – or to someone’s legs, just as we sometimes use cleavage to refer to what is on either side of the cleft.

The Oxford English Dictionary, for its part, defines furchure succinctly as “The fork of the body.” It also labels it as obsolete and rare and adduces a mere two quotations, both from the 1300s.

Well, heck. I think this word is still usable. People do still have them, you know! And it’s one of the better ways of distinguishing between humans and mer-people. The little mermaid is wistful because, however fork-tender her fish-flesh may be, she has no furchure. No future, either! So she seeks a water witch to make her as bifurcated as dowsing rod. She can’t cleave to her human unless she is cloven!

Those of us who know French or are at least wise to the perverse ways of word evolution have probably made the formal connection between this word and fork. French for fork is fourche (or, for the kind you hold in your hand to eat your fish fillet, fourchette). Our word of the day is taken from French fourchure, which is to forking as pressure is to pressing. Fourche comes from Latin furca (which shows up in bifurcated); so does fork.

Since this word is old and no one says it anymore (until now), the pronunciation is not listed in the dictionaries. But it seems obvious enough to me, especially given the source: It is said like “fur-sure,” which sounds kind of like a fissure with fur on it, I guess.

Do you find this all a bit… indelicate? Are you wishing I would get the fork out of here? Then I think you’re a cold fish and should fork yourself. You know, split. Furchure.

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