A spatula is "a small implement with a broad, flat, flexible blade used to mix, spread and lift material" including foods, drugs, plaster and paints. It derives from the Latin word for a flat piece of wood or splint (a diminutive form of the Latin spatha, meaning broadsword), and hence can also refer to a tongue depressor. The words spade (digging tool) and spathe are similarly derived. The word spatula is known to have been used in English since 1525.
Spatulas are usually used to level out a dry measuring cup. It is a tool with two flat edges on a flexible blade. A spatula is usually short and about 8 inches long. A spatula also refers to a turner which is used to flip over pancakes and meat patties.
American English usage
In kitchen utensils, a spatula is any utensil fitting the above description. One variety is used to lift and flip food items during cooking, such as pancakes and fillets. The blade on these are usually made of metal or plastic, with a wooden or plastic handle to insulate them from heat. A cookie shovel is a specialty spatula with a larger blade, made for scooping cookies off their pan.
A frosting spatula is also known as palette knife and is usually made of metal or plastic.
Bowl and plate scrapers are sometimes called spatulas.
British English usage
In British English a spatula is similar in shape to a palette knife without holes in a flexible and or detachable blade. A wide-bladed utensil with long holes in a solid blade used for turning food is a fish slice.
In laboratories, spatulas and microspatulas are small stainless steel utensils, used for scraping, transferring, or applying powders and paste like chemicals or treatments. Many spatula brands are also resistant to acids, bases, heat, and solvents, which make them ideal for use with a wide range of compound. A common type would be stainless steel spatulas, which are widely used because they are sturdy and affordable. They are resistant to deterioration from contact with boiling water, acids, bases, and most solvents. Some of them come with Polyvinyl chloride plastic handle or riveted hardwood for better handling. Polystyrene spatulas are made for researchers because they are disposable, preventing any potential contaminations which occurs often with reusable spatulas. They are also ideal for handling lyophilized products or performing lyophilization.