Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Case Knife =A Butter Knife

case knife and fork laying on napkin

Ed Ammons left the following comment on last week’s Appalachian Vocabulary Test.

“Nowthen there’s a Case and there’s a case when yer talkin about knives. A case knife is on the table to the right of the dinner plate next to the teaspoon. It’s what you use to cut yer food if the side of your fork just can’t cut it.

A Case knife will likely be found in yer front pants pocket (right or left depended on yer handedness). A Case (or similar type) knife is an essential part of any Appalachian citizen’s wardrobe (yes, ladies are included. In fact, encouraged)!

A case knife has its place too. It makes a decent screwdriver in a pinch. It is good for fishing small items out of sink drains. Other that those none comes to mind but I’m sure there’s more. Oh Yeah, if they are strong enough they are excellent substitutes for motorcycle tire irons. Unfortunately most are not. Real silver bends too easy and stainless steel breaks. Oh well I’ll keep thinking.

Now the uses for a Case knife;
Skinning a deer,
picking out splinters,
shaving kindling from rich pine to start a fire,
trimming your fingernails,
peeling an apple, peach, potato, plum, pear and/or any other fruit or vegetable,
carving your and your lovers initials into a tree or into your school desk (the latter is not recommended),
playing mumbledy peg,
a slide for your guitar
and of course whittling children’s toys. That’s only the beginning!

I have before me a Case 6202½, a Boker Tree Brand, a Buck 301, a Barlow Imperial Ireland and a Bear & Sons Little Trapper, all made in the USA (I’m not sure about the Barlow). I also have an assortment of foreign made knives which have their places but none have a place in my heart like the Case, the Buck and the Barlow (the Barlow may have been made in Ireland but Ireland is not foreign to me!)”

—-

Ed’s comment reminded me of a video I filmed for a lady I was working with a few years back. It was about the case knife that Ed said laid near the dinner plate.

Tipper

p.s. You can catch The Pressley Girls over the next few weeks at the following places:

August 3, 2019 @ 8:00 p.m. Mountain Dance and Folk Festival – Asheville NC

August 17, 2019 @ 2:10 p.m. Swain County Agriculture Fair – Bryson City NC

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31 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    August 1, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Tipper all the comments are great our parent called it a case knife. I used mine for the dinner table but for keeping my lids tight the thin knife would turn a lot of screws my Mother told me about selling bark to the tannery in Andrews but she may have had a knife to get her job easily she told about taking her sons and striping bark she called it tan bark to load the wagon to sell from Marble to Andrews . Dad worked away on the parkway building rock walls around the water I almost cry when going to the Smokey mountain seeing those men handy work which my dad work help create . We take for granite such beauty left to enjoy. I think the old chimney of the Tannery is down now. Thanks Tipper for keeping our old ways of the mountains alive in our minds along with such good comments made

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    August 1, 2019 at 7:38 am

    I don’t remember it ever being called anything else where I grew up here in West Virginia. I still call it a case knife and my kids know what I’m talking about when I tell them to go get me a case knife. It’s great for cutting butter, slicing bananas and whatever else you want to use it for.

  • Reply
    Jo
    July 31, 2019 at 11:57 pm

    Tipper, thanks so much for sharing the video. You brought back memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time. My grandfather called it a case knife. He also ate off the case knife in the way you described, especially when scraping up honey and butter. He has passed away and no one in my family eats off a knife or calls it a case knife anymore.
    I really appreciate all your posts.

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    July 31, 2019 at 6:55 pm

    My grandfather ate with a case knife and fork. He scooped food on his knife with his fork and ate from the knife. I could sit and watch him all day long. He is the only one I ever knew that ate like that. It looked so natural when he did this. And, by the way, his last name was Case.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 31, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I think maybe the term “case knife” harkens back to a time when flatware was one of a family’s most valued possessions, often passed down through generations. The silverware was actually made of silver and was kept in a locked casket/case. Spoons, forks and most other dining utensils had no counterpart outside the case. Knives on the other hand were everywhere. In pockets, strapped on hips and inside boots,etc, as personal protection devices, in the kitchen for cutting, peeling and paring, in the workshop for woodworking and in the woods turning trees into usable products. All these knives has a name, usually describing their uses ie butcher knives, drawknives and bark spuds. The knife in the case, the dinner knife, left its place of repose only on rare occasions when formal meals were served.
    So, that’s my theory. When asking for or referring to any other knives, one had a descriptive name. This one, the one in the case, became the “case knife”. What do you think?

    Do you know what a bark spud is?

    • Reply
      aw griff
      July 31, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      No Ed. What is a bark spud?

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        July 31, 2019 at 9:36 pm

        A bark spud is a knife on a handle. The metal part has a blade similar to a curved chisel but can be 3 to 4 inches wide or more. It has a socket in which a handle about 3 to 4 feet long. A bark spud is used to peel the bark off trees. In the spring when trees start to grow the bark loosens which allows the tree to expand. People used to peel the bark and sell it. It was used by tanneries to make leather. The trunk of the tree was used for building either as poles or sawn into lumber. Peeled poles would last longer because the bark and the sapwood was where insects and mold could get a quicker foothold there.

        • Reply
          aw griff
          August 1, 2019 at 7:48 am

          I’ve never seen a bark spud. Makes me wonder what the slippery l-um (elm) bark thieves are using to strip off the bark to sell, but I think it’s bark comes off easy.

  • Reply
    Earl Cagle
    July 31, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Mr. Ammons, sure opened the memory bag. I am not a knife collector but it appears it is a big business now, with CASE being a leader. I always carried a pocket knife and still forget to leave it in truck when going into the Court House, some kindly folk will hold one for you, others tell you they are not allowed to. I am somewhat partial to the Boker Tree Brand and have one that belonged to my great grandfather, a blacksmith in North Carolina before he moved to Cherokee County, Georgia prior to the Civil War. It is a large knife and his son, my grandfather, told me the black “handles” were ebony. It was made in Solingen, Germany. I was not aware the Boker was manufactured in the United State. Until I read Mr. Ammons contribution I never knew why my elder kinfolk referred to the table setting knife as a case knife. Great article!!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 31, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      I’m Ed! Mr. Ammons was my daddy. May I call you Earl?

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 31, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Somebody should write the book of knife folklore. I think there is plenty of material. Would make a good “Foxfire” topic if they haven’t done it.

    I’m guessing the eating from your knife goes all the way back to the days when there were no table forks and, in addition, you used your own utensil. And since a knife was a necessary everyday tool, just add eating to its list of functions.

    Until Ed’s post mentioned it, I had never given thought to ‘handedness’ in a pocketknife. Thanks to BP&A for making me aware. Ed made me realize I have always carried my pocketknife in my right-hand pocket. If there is a hole in that pocket and I put it in my left-hand pocket I get scared when I reach for it and it is not there but a hole is. But I use my knife left-handed. No idea why the muddle unless I am just mixed up.

    As to ‘case knife’ we never used that name for tableware knives. To us they were ‘butter knives’; perhaps related to my Dad’s description for a dull knife of “wouldn’t cut butter”. To this day I have little use for tableware knives.

  • Reply
    Dee
    July 31, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Hadn’t thought of it for a long time til I saw it on your blog. My parents and grandparents called it a Case Knife and as Ed mentioned it could be used for many small jobs on the farm. If my father was alive today he would be 104 – his generation and my grandfathers all carried a small folding knife in their pockets. I do remember my father saying the Barlow was one that they liked and some of these have been passed on down to grandsons. Thanks for jogging my memory.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 31, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Tipper,
    and Ed,
    We used Caseknives at our dinnertable too. I’m like Tipper, I never heard it called anything else. I carried a Case Knife when I got out of School and worked at American Thread. I used that thing to cut thread off the thread of Bobbins from the Spinning department. I worked at the Spooling department. At the end of each shift, we’d cut any leftover thread from the bobbins that had broken of during running. My Case knife looked terrible, due to having to sharpen it often. I had to carry a Whitrock in my other pant’s pocket and sharpen the Knife when needed. It was against the rules to use a knife to cut the leftover thread off, but if you didn’t, soon you’d get Blisters. I got to holding the knifeblade near the tip, so you couldn’t tell any difference.

    Ed is real smart…he can think of things that no one else ever thought about. That’s one of the reasons I’m impressed. …Ken

  • Reply
    JustAnOldGuy
    July 31, 2019 at 10:02 am

    My grandfather would use a case knife to eat an apple. All his teeth were gone and he never could get dentures that would fit. To eat an apple he would cut the apple in two equatorially, not longitudinally as most people do. The case knife that he used had a straight blade with a semicircular tip and he would use the tip of the blade to scrape the apple’s flesh out of the peel that he had left intact. The technique left the peel and core intact and extracted the flesh in a form that was ‘gumable’ because chewing was out of the question. I’m not sure a modern case knife would work very well for this technique because most modern ones have some variation of what’s called a clip point blade.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      July 31, 2019 at 1:48 pm

      I ate many apples that way but with a spoon when I was a boy. I didn’t realize until years later that the old folks were doing that because of bad teeth or no teeth.

  • Reply
    Annie R.
    July 31, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Dad’s grandfather ate with his knife. I remember once as a child watching him mix green peas in the mashed potatoes to keep them from rolling off the knife. After that I mixed peas and taters together most my life. Silly girl.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 31, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Case knife is what we called it. I have heard of people eating peas (of all things) off the knife blade but that seems an awful hard way to get some peas! By the way we had our first mess of purple hulls yesterday and garden tomatoes!!

  • Reply
    Shirl
    July 31, 2019 at 9:14 am

    When I think of Case Knives, I think of the brand. My parents called a butter knife a case knife, but it’s been years since I have heard it called that.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    July 31, 2019 at 8:40 am

    I never heard it called a case knife that I recall. To me it is a table knife.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    July 31, 2019 at 8:37 am

    My family has always called it a case knife and a butter knife was a totally different critter. It has a shorter blade and it is dull and no serrated edge. Now the other type of Case knife is the kind I carry in my pocket which is a full size Trapper.

    Ed got me to thinkin about the oiled floors and the desks with ink wells and fold up seats where I went to high school. A lot of the desk had carvings and some were stained with ink. In my memory I can still smell those oiled floors.

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      July 31, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      I’m with you AW on the oiled floors, oil plus green, blue or red sawdust sprinkled on the oak strip, floors at my WPA-era elementry school. I never knew but I’m guessing the oil was linseed or cotton seed (or are they one and the same?)

  • Reply
    Shelia Nelson
    July 31, 2019 at 8:36 am

    My family here in East Tennessee always called it a case knife. I don’t hear it much these days though, with the younger generations.
    Have you ever watched any of Jon Townsend’s videos? He specializes in colonial America- in his cooking videos he always eats off a knife and has spoken about it several times. Maybe we still do that here, or at least know about it, in the Southeastern part of the country because our ancestors who settled this land ate that way–and since we never moved further west, (I’m 7th generation Tennessean) we call it a case knife and have seen people eat off of it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 31, 2019 at 7:55 am

    I’ve heard it called a butter knife and a case knife, I just always called it a knife or dinner knife. I also have some distant memory of people using their fork to push food onto the knife then transporting it to their mouth on said knife but I’m afraid I have no idea of the source of that memory.
    Thanks, Ed, for the comments, and the memories!

  • Reply
    Carol
    July 31, 2019 at 7:21 am

    Case knife = table knife.
    Butter knife = kept on butter dish

    • Reply
      JustAnOldGuy
      July 31, 2019 at 10:09 am

      I’ll go with Carol on that and add one more distinction between case and butter knives. The dadgummed butter knives are almost always right handed. Just another example of the world’s discrimination against ‘sinister’ handed folk.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    July 31, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Sometimes my wife will ask if I have a knife and then answer her own question by stating “You have your britches on don’t you.” By this she acknowledges I am from a generation where a knife was part of your wardrobe especially if you were raised on a farm since the knife was a tool that found a myriad of uses.

    • Reply
      Marie Brazzell
      August 1, 2019 at 11:14 am

      Anyone who asks my husband if he has get the same answer, I’ve got my pants on .
      Sons gave him the current knife more than 40 years ago, if it slides out of his pocket into his chair it’s on until he gets it out. Hello Ed, I’m Marie Wikle, Mose Wikle’s granddaughter. loved the piece you did on Jeff and Tiny a while back. The pictures the young lady posted were wonderful.
      Also hello to Bill Burnett. We talked about family a long time ago

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 31, 2019 at 7:02 am

    I have heard it called both. I have also read about eating off your knife. My grandfather used his fork to hold what he was cutting then would put it in his mouth with the knife. He always used both utensils when eating putting the food on his fork with the knife.

    • Reply
      Rosamary Christiansen
      July 31, 2019 at 11:09 am

      I grew up hearing and using the word case knife. Like you, I thought everybody said case knife. Wrong! Sometimes I still say case knife after all these 50 years of being married to the same man and he will look at me like I got a loose propeller and he doesn’t have a clue.

  • Reply
    Jerry
    July 31, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Is the origin of the name Case knife from the Case Brothers. See below from the Case web page.

    Our roots extend back to 1889, when four enterprising brothers—William Russell (W.R.), Jean, John, and Andrew Case (a.k.a. “The Case Brothers”)—began selling handcrafted knives from the back of a wagon in upstate New York. John Russell (Russ) Case, the son of W.R., formed W.R. Case & Sons, as it is known today. Russ’s father acted as his son’s consultant, helping to stabilize the company’s early finances while building a reputation as the most respected name in American cutlery.

  • Reply
    tmc
    July 31, 2019 at 5:26 am

    Never heard it called a case knife, just a plain butter knife around here.

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