In modern terminology the Arkansas toothpick is a heavy dagger with a 12–20-inch (30–51 cm) pointed, straight blade. The knife can be used for thrusting and slashing. James Black, the inventor of the Bowie knife, is credited with inventing the Arkansas toothpick.
There was no consistent distinction made between Bowie knives and Arkansas toothpicks in the mid-19th century. There were enough occasional distinctions to shade any dogmatic statement of equivalence. Americans were observed to use pocket knives to clean their teeth in the era, so the Arkansas toothpick term may predate the Bowie knife. There is some (debatable) basis for claiming that Arkansas toothpicks were designed for throwing.
Although many jurisdictions worldwide have knife legislation regulating the length of a blade or the dagger-like profile of the Arkansas toothpick that can be owned or carried, certain locales in the United States have legislation mentioning the "Arkansas Toothpick" in particular. These laws were passed in the late 1830s, in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, as an attempt to prevent dueling.
- Hunt, Robert E. (2004). Randall Military Models: Fighters, Bowies And Full Tang Knives. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company. p. 304. ISBN 978-1-56311-953-8.
- Flayderman, Norm (2004). The Bowie knife : unsheathing an American legend. Lincoln, R.I: Andrew Mowbray. pp. 265–274. ISBN 978-1-931464-12-3. Chapter 8 is dedicated to the distinction between toothpicks and Bowies.
- Cramer, Clayton (1999). Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 110, 192. ISBN 978-0-275-96615-7.