Runcible spoon

Runcible spoon

[ruhn-suh-buhl]
A runcible spoon is a utensil that appears in the nonsense poetry also uses the adjective "runcible" to describe objects other than spoons. It is fundamentally a nonsense word.

Origin

Lear's best-known poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, published in 1871, includes the passage

They dined on mince and slices of quince,
which they ate with a runcible spoon.
Another mention of this piece of cutlery appears in the alphabetical illustrations Twenty-Six Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures. Its entry for D reads
The Dolomphious Duck,
who caught Spotted Frogs for her dinner
with a Runcible Spoon
Lear often illustrated his own poems, and he drew a picture of the "dolomphious duck" holding in its beak a round-bowled spoon containing a frog (right).

Other runcible objects

The word "runcible" was apparently one of Lear's favourite inventions, appearing in several of his works in reference to a number of different objects. In his verse self-portrait, The Self-Portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense, it is noted that "he weareth a runcible hat". Other poems include mention of a "runcible cat, a "runcible goose", and a "runcible wall".

Attempts to define the word

Lear does not appear to have had any firm idea of what the word "runcible" means. His whimsical nonsense verse celebrates words primarily for their sound, and a specific definition is not needed to appreciate his work. However, since the 1920s (several decades after Lear's death), modern dictionaries have generally defined a runcible spoon to be a fork with three prongs, such as a pickle fork. It is occasionally used as a synonym for spork. However, this definition is not consistent with Lear's drawing, in which it is a ladle, nor does it account for the other "runcible" objects in Lear's poems.

It is also sometimes used to refer to what is commonly known as a "grapefruit spoon" -- a spoon with serrated edges around the bowl.

Latin runcāre = "to weed", "to thin out", and:-

  • If a Latin noun runcibulum existed (as an error for runcābulum), it would mean "tool used for weeding".
  • If a Latin adjective runcibilis existed (as an error for runcābilis), it would mean "capable of being weeded out".

In popular culture

The whimsical feel of the word "runcible" has led to its appearance in diverse arenas including fiction, music, and business.

Fiction

  • In Ian Irvine's Runcible Jones series of books, Runcible Jones is a boy who is unhappy at Grindgrim Academy, the worst school in the country.
  • In the board game Kill Doctor Lucky, a runcible spoon is one of the weapons players can use to kill Doctor Lucky.
  • Professor Runcible Spoon is an elemental researching mage in the web-comic Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.
  • In Neal Asher's novel Gridlinked, runcible is the name given to an interstellar wormhole generator/teleporter, most probably as an homage to the ansible.
  • In Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, runcible is a code name for the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.
  • In Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies, Runcible is the last name of daft, drunken Agatha.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "The Deadly Assassin", Runcible is a Time Lord.
  • In Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," an exhibition fight with runcible spoons is held.
  • In the roleplaying game Changeling: The Dreaming, "Runcible Shaw" is the name of a Pooka historian and scholar
  • In Lemony Snicket's The End, an island cult eats using only runcible spoons.
  • In Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair the character Runcible Spoon discovers that Mr. Quaverly from Martin Chuzzlewit had mysteriously disappeared.
  • In Jasper Fforde's novel The Big Over Easy an extract from the Gadfly (a fictional newspaper) reports that at the wedding of the Owl and the Pussycat, "the wedding feast will be mostly mince and slices of quince, served up with a runcible spoon". page 335.
  • In the musical Too Much Caffeine by Steve Delchamps, the setting is a small coffee shop called The Runcible Spoon.
  • In the TV series Dead Like Me, Rube (a grim reaper) is trying to run the kitchen of Angus Cook (whose soul Rube took), with Angus haunting the kitchen until a replacement cook can be found. Angus lectures Rube on using the "runcible" with eggs, and further identifies it as "the spoon with the holes".
  • In the TV series Ed, the name of the pie shop that Ed and his friends frequent is called The Runcible Spoon.
  • The character Louis Runcible in The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
  • In an episode ("Just My Bill") of the British Sitcom The Good Life (Good Neighbors in the U.S.), Tom Good tries to sell some of his excess vegetable crop to a restaurant called The Runcible Spoon.
  • In the webcomic Questionable Content, J. Edward Runcible (an amalgamation of "Edward Lear" and "Runcible") is the name of a 19th century conspiracy theorist
  • A character named Runcy Balspoon appears in the Kiakodan Nature Reserve in the text MUD Lusternia.
  • In the Harry Harrison Stainless Steel Rat series, an errant robot declares, "The runcible rhythm of ravenous raisins rolled through the rookery rambling and raving."
  • In C.J. Sansom's novel "Dissolution," set mainly in a monastery to be dissolved by Thomas Cromwell under Henry VIII, the lead character, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer working for Cromwell, sups with the monks in their refectory "where a great haunch of beef was served with runcible peas." In this case the word is a version of "rounceval" meaning a large pea, a large woman or a wart.
  • Sir Runcible Murgatroyd is a common name for one of the supernumerary ghosts in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "Ruddigore".
  • In Claire Messud's novel "When The World Was Steady" the character Virginia describes her boss in this way: "Truth be told, she had never found Simon in the least physically attractive: he was squat and runcible and slightly foolish."

Music

  • In the Pretty Things song "Baron Saturday," the words "You've lost the runcible spoon" are used.
  • Paul McCartney's album Driving Rain includes the track "Heather" which features the lyrics: "And I will dance to a runcible tune / With the queen of my heart". McCartney has explained the connection to "The Owl and the Pussycat" in various interviews since its release.

Computer science

  • RUNCIBLE is also the name of a compiler for an early (late 1950s) programming language. Donald Knuth published the flowchart of the compiler in 1959; this was his first academic paper.

See also

References

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