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 — 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 — 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. 🙁   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 — 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 — 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 — 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.