A Quiz by any other name. . .

 Anne here. Tonight I'm going to a "trivia night." It's to help raise money to send a couple of local boys (ie from Australia) to a basketball tournament in the USA. Isn't it wonderful that kids can get opportunities like this?

TrivPursuitI'm not sure when the word "trivia" came to mean bits of random information rather than small, unimportant matters β€” probably from the game Trivial Pursuits. Wikipedia suggests it arose as far back as 1965, but there's no citation but certainly in 1982 the game Trivial Pursuit hit the shops and swept the world and from then on trivia was all about little snippets of odd knowledge.

When I was a kid it was simply called "general knowledge" and at school and sometimes at home (particularly during long car journeys) we used to have general knowledge quizzes. Mum and Dad in the front seat of the car would fire off questions and we kids would scribble down our answers β€” no yelling them out, my parents weren't stupid. Points would be given and the winner… actually, I don't remember what the winner got. Being the baby of the family, I was never the winner, and by the time I was old enough to remember stuff, all the other kids had grown up and left home, and there was a competition of one. πŸ™   Dublin_theatreroyal_19thcentury

Do you know where the word "quiz" came from?

You've probably heard the story about how, in 1791, the owner of the Dublin Theatre Royal, (that's it on the right,) Richard Daly made a bet that he could introduce a new word into the English language within 48 hours. He had his staff write the word QUIZ on buildings and public places all around the city. The next day everyone was talking about this strange word, asking "What is it?" and "What does it mean?" and soon it had become part of the language.

QuizofahatIt's a great story and I believe it's true; the trouble is, the word quiz was already in use in England. It meant an odd or eccentric person; someone whose appearance was peculiar or ridiculous.  Fanny Burney used it in her diary in 1782: "He's a droll quiz, and I rather like him."

The word 'quiz' meaning odd or peculiar in general became quite fashionable during the Regency; Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey "Where did you get that quiz of a hat?"

It could also mean to tease, make fun or or mock a person; to satirize something or to talk wittily. From the OED (Oxford English Dictionary):1801 Edgeworth in Moral Tales: He spent his time in..ridiculing, or, in his own phrase, quizzing every sensible young man." This usage has pretty much died out.

By 1802 the monocle, a single eyeglass with or without a handle, was being called a quizzing glass, or occasionally a quizzer. Presumably one used it to peer at odd-looking people, or in the words of the OED, to regard with amusement or scorn; to appraise mockingly, to peer inquisitively at; to watch or examine closely, to interrogate with the eye. Quizzingglasslady

By 1843 quizzed was being used as a word that simply meant to question or interrogate, with no particular reference to oddity or peculiarity.

And finally, the word was used to describe a process of question and answer to test the understanding or educational progress of a student or class of students by means of a quiz. From the OED: 1866   Harper's Mag. June 134/2   Professor I-I..quizzed them [sc. his class] thoroughly on the difference between fracture of the skull and concussion of the brain, and was pleased to see that all understood it.

How accurate are these dates?

The problem with claiming a word was or was not in use by a particular date is always a tricky one because etymological dictionaries, which give us the final word on such matters, must rely on documented β€” ie written sources. Yet it is reasonable to assume that a new word would be spoken before it appeared in some written or printed source.

MuscadinsI well remembered the debate I had with the editor of my first book when she objected to my use of the word "mesmerised", which according to the OED wasn't used until 1829 (R. Chenevix in London Med. & Physical Jrnl. 6 222,   I mesmerised the patient through the door.)

I argued that since Franz Mesmer, from whose name the word was coined, had died in 1815, and the height of his fame had come more than thirty years before, it was quite likely that the term might be in common spoken use well before it was ever written down. Further, that the OED relied on documents that had survived and were in the public domain, which meant the dates it gives of "first use" for a word are at most, a conservative guess, not an absolute fact. All it takes to change that date is an earlier written reference. If Fanny Burney's diaries hadn't survived, for instance, the word quiz wouldn't have been dated as 1782 but several years later.

I lost the argument, of course β€” one generally does with editors, and in restrospect it was a good call, because some people look up words to check and then write to tell authors they were wrong. From memory I used the word "entranced" instead. But I still maintain that words came into oral use first and only later did they make their way into written or printed documents.

However, enough of this um, trivia β€” I have a trivia night to go to. I expect to look something of a quiz, as I'm the MC and I'll be wearing my green foam Statue of Liberty hat, a souvenir from the 200th birthday of the lovely lady when I was first in New York. 

What about you? Do you enjoy trivia? Quizzes? Have you ever been to a trivia night or event? And if you like to do quizzes, here's a link to a regency quiz. Have a go and tell us how you went. 

 

Looking at the World Through Regency Glasses

Joanna here, talking about eyeglasses in the Regency period. Franklin6

The idea of eyeglasses isn't new.  Dipping into wayback history, folks were getting a close look at small stuff with a clear, curving crystal in ancient times.

Nimrud_2lens_British_MuseumHere's the Nimrud Stone, a piece of ground, polished rock crystal found in the excavation of a 3000-year-old Assyrian palace.  Lenses like this have turned up in Greek burial sites that are even older. 

These first magnifying glasses gave the users up to 10X enlargement, which is to say they compare favorably with the magnifying glass you have in your desk right now and use for reading the print in your OED or threading needles or staring in bemused enjoyment at the whorls and ridges of your thumbprint. 

Scholars figure these very early lenses were used by Greek and Sumerian craftsmen to produce the unbelievably fine detail in some of their art work.  Or gazing at the rings of Saturn.  Or, y'know, looking at their thumb.

What limited the number and quality of these first lenses β€” the reason Cleopatra didn't wear eyeglasses β€” Pectoral_of_Senusret_II_cc attrib John_Campanawas they hadn't got around to making cheap and clear glass yet.  High quality glass was precious. That's why Tutankhamun's hoard of jewels is made of gold, ivory, lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, and . . . glass.  This must have come as a disappointment to the Victorian treasure-seekers in the Nile valley.  They'd open a tomb and pull out a fancy pectoral or amulet and it was brilliant, colorful glass, instead of, say, brilliant colorful emeralds.


Folks finally made reliably clear glass on a large scale in Italy. 

Thirteenth Century Italy was the hotbed of glass technHugh_specsology for its day.  Venice β€” the Medieval Silicon Valley of glasswork β€” turned out round, hand-held magnifiers on a regular basis.  About 1280 some bright lad, his name forever lost to history, mounted two of these glass disks in round frames and joined them together.  Presto.  Eyeglasses. 

And, lickety-split, as historical innovation goes, we get portraits of people with spectacles.  This 1352 portrait to the left may be the earliest representation of eyeglasses.


Friedrich_Herlin,_Reading_Saint_Peter_(1466)
Spectacle and spectacle case c mother or pearl painted totoiseshell silver glass 1700 vandAThere were two kinds.  Perch-on-the-nose glasses, for one.  Pince-nez we'd call them now.  That's a circa 1700 example on the left.  This picture to the right is from 1466.

Lorgnette the met We also get a scissors-type eyeglasses that joined together at a hinge and could be adjusted to fit.  This kind of glasses could be held up as we see to the left, or held up from below.  The scissors glasses seem awkward, but they appear in portraits right along to the Regency so they must have had hidden charm and utility.

Conrad_von_Soest,_'Brillenapostel'_(1403)
You can see the difficulty with both kinds.  They were always ready to fall off.  You had to tie a ribbon around your head or keep one hand on your glasses.  Tedious, to say the least. They'd be for reading and close work only.

In the early 1700s a London spectacles maker, Edward Scarlett, advertised a clever solution.  His glasses had folding hinged struts on the sides and two arms to hold the optics onto the head.  There were even loops, sometimes, to tie the glasses on.  Made in china before 1846 after C17 3rd quart british museum attribNow your spectacles didn't fall off every time you incautiously reached for a new sheet of paper. 

It became practical to walk around wearing the things.  All this improvement in eyeglass technology meant people could pay intelligent attention to where they were going. This lasted till the invention of the ipod.
Crome 1817 detail 2Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorite people β€” he's up at the top of the page β€” invented bifocals in 1784.
It was also in the Eighteenth Century that glasses met the masses.  They were no longer for scholars and artists.  This traveling glasses pedlar on the left argues that glasses were cheap enough that a country woman in a cottage was likely to buy a pair. This ragged tailor on the right can afford glasses to pursue his trade. Crussens mid c17
 
I haven't found examples of these Georgian and Regency glasses with a curve to fit neatly around the ear.  They seem to have hugged the head in a steely embrace, doubtless leading to many a Regency headache.  Some, intended to tuck intMusvisattrib 1750 wig spectacles spearshaped tipso the fashionable wigs of the time, had fierce and sharpish-looking points.

Now, with all this development of practical eyeglasses that gripped the head and stayed on and didn't require constant fidgeting, you'd think the old, precarious sort without side pieces would disappear. 
Not so much.  As the new utilitarian eyeglasses spread through the hoi polloi, the inconvenient older optics were now considered spiffy and upper-crust.

Quizzing glass closeup Quizzing glass 1820 britinsh museum attrib detail 2So, you had your quizzing glass. 
This was a single, hand-held lens, like a magnifying glass. 

Single lenses that you held had long since been replaced by spectacles for everyday use.  Round about 1790 the French, as the French will, turned this passe object into a fashion accessory.  If you needed glasses, or even if you didn't, you could walk around with a quizzing glass handy, maybe hanging it on a long chain worn around the neck. The you whipped it out to inspect something.
Fashionably.

 
The double-barreled version of the quizzing glass was the lorgnette, which is sort of glasses-on-a-stick.  Lorgnette after 1700 the met Like the quizzing glass, the lorgnette was a decorative social prop, capable of depressing pretension all the way across the ballroom. 

Quizzing glass 1801The word lorgnette, you will be pleased to know, comes from the French lorgner, 'to peer at', from Middle French lorgne, 'squint'.  The French, being contrary, call this instrument a face-a-main β€” a 'face-to-hand' β€” and then use the French word lorgnette to mean, not that, but a quizzing glass or small telescope.
The word English word 'lorgnette' appears in 1803 so you should probably not have your character raise her lorgnette to intimidate an encroaching mushroom before that.  Unless she is French.  In which case she is talking about a quizzing glass. 
Life is complex.

One thing you notice, when you're looking at paintings of Georgian and Regency crowd scenes, is how few people are wearing glasses.  When you do see glasses in a crowd, they're generally perched on the nose of a plump parson or peering, bent old woman.  I set aside the possibilities of Eighteenth Century Lasik surgery, contact lenses, and a general eagle-eyed-ness in the population and ask myself why.


Regency Romances portray glasses as a bit fuddy-duddy.  Our Regency heroines hide their spectacles in their reticules (and our Regency heroes have better eyesight than the average squad of fighter pilots.)  This is a Regency Romance convention that seems to have good evidence on its side. 

Nimrud stone and quizzling glass attrib British Museum. Scissor glasses and lorgnette attrib The Met. Pectoral of Senusret cc attrib John Compana. Glasses with wig points and glasses with loops Museum of Vision by permission. Spectacles and caseBlack Hawk attrib V&A.
 
 
So.  Thinking about the impact of eyeglasses on the world . . .  Imagine a life with no eyeglasses, and you with not-so-good eyes.  What would you miss most?
One lucky commenter will win a still-fairly-hot-off-the-presses copy of Black Hawk.