What a Quiz!

Quiz winnerNicola here. This weekend we took part in our local village charity quiz, fifteen teams trying to answer questions on everything from the names of Disney princesses to Olympic swimming champions. Amazingly, we won – as a team we knew a lot of obscure, random general knowledge! – plus we raised some money and enjoyed an evening out with friends and neighbours. It was all very good humoured, unlike some of the quizzes I've been involved with where professional teams got very irate if they didn't win!

I’ve always liked the word “quiz.” It's got a fun feel to it, and, being a writer, I've often wondered where the word originated from. I remember it featuring in Georgette Heyer, but as a description of a person rather than an activity. So I set out to find out more.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the origin of the word “quiz” is uncertain. There is a popular story that in the late 18th century the Irish theatre manager James Daly made a Theatre_Royal _Hawkins_Street _Dublin_(26237303981) wager that he could invent a word that had no meaning and get the entire city of Dublin talking about it. He chalked or pasted up the letters Q,U,I,Z on the walls around the city and soon everybody was speculating about what they could mean. Thus, he won the bet and the word entered English slang, meaning an eccentric, odd person. The theatre in the photo is Dublin's Theatre Royal (copyright National Library of Ireland) which was originally founded back in the 17th century.

CeciliaThe theatre anecdote is  a good story and it appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines in the 19th century but there’s no proof of it and in fact the word had first appeared in print about 10 years before Daly made his supposed wager when Fanny Burney used it in one of her novels. So by the 1780s it was already well known and probably had been used in speech quite frequently. So we probably need to look elsewhere for the origins of the word. Other suggestions that have been put forward are that actually it derives from the same place as inquisitive and inquisition, which makes sense when you think it has connotations of a curious person or someone asking lots of questions. Apparently it was also the tradition in English boys’ grammar schools in the 18th and 19th century to start tests on literary and historical characters with the Latin word “quis” meaning “who.” The whole test would be in Latin, of course, and you can see how they might become known as quizzes.

Whatever the case, from the late 1700s the noun "a quiz" had come to mean an odd or eccentric person, as in: “He was not odd – no quiz – yet he resembled Regency hats no one else I had ever seen before.” (The Professor, Charlotte Bronte.) It could also be used to describe an object that was a bit strange, such as: “Where did you get that quiz of a hat?” A s one character asks another in Northanger Abbey.

The same era gives us the the “quizzing glass," which was an aid to vision, particularly a monocle, designed for examining something or someone very closely. Regency romances abound with usually elderly men and women peering at people through their quizzing glasses or dandies affecting to be outrageous by carrying a monocle.

Oddly at the same time that Quiz became a word, there was also the word “Quoz, ” which also meant an eccentric person, just as Quiz did. In fact there was some argument over which was the correct term! Interestingly, quoz has died out of use but quiz has survived to the present day.

QuizzingLike many words, “quiz” started to change and develop different meanings over time. To quiz someone came to mean ask them questions or banter with them, which takes us back to being inquisitive, but with joking overtones. The word “quizzical” came along to mean “questioning” in a teasing way. Jane Austen talks about “a great deal of stupid quizzing and commonplace nonsense” in one of her letters; She doesn’t approve of such banter without real wit. Charles Dickens also uses it to describe someone who makes jokes and Sir Walter Scott uses the word to describe something light-hearted and nonsensical.

These days, to quiz most usually means to question someone in detail on a particular topic. A quiz can be a simple series of questions or a game show with huge prize Quiz
money at stake. This sort of quiz grew popular in the early 20th century. The first programme was in 1928 when a US quiz show called “Jack Says Ask Me Another” made its debut. After that, radio and TV quiz shows became mass entertainment. As a child in the 1970s I loved Ask The Family, Brain of Britain and many more. University Challenge was usually too tough and specialised for me! 

Here on the Word Wenches we love a good quiz and Wench Anne has created some fun ones! Are you a quiz fan? Do you take part in them, or enjoy watching or listening to them? Any favourite quiz shows?

 

70 thoughts on “What a Quiz!”

  1. What a fun post, Nicola. Word histories can be so varied and interesting.
    Congratulations to your team on winning the village charity quiz!

    Reply
  2. What a fun post, Nicola. Word histories can be so varied and interesting.
    Congratulations to your team on winning the village charity quiz!

    Reply
  3. What a fun post, Nicola. Word histories can be so varied and interesting.
    Congratulations to your team on winning the village charity quiz!

    Reply
  4. What a fun post, Nicola. Word histories can be so varied and interesting.
    Congratulations to your team on winning the village charity quiz!

    Reply
  5. What a fun post, Nicola. Word histories can be so varied and interesting.
    Congratulations to your team on winning the village charity quiz!

    Reply
  6. Those head coverings (one could hardly call them hats, or even caps) are highly quizzical, as in “What the heck??” The ones that are interwoven with the lady’s curls reek of “I’m so wealthy I have a maid who makes me a piece of art.” Might be a good theme for a self-important debutante who begins her redemption when the hero makes a quizzing comment about it. Or maybe he’s the snob and she explains … no, she’s definitely the over-privileged one. Fun!

    Reply
  7. Those head coverings (one could hardly call them hats, or even caps) are highly quizzical, as in “What the heck??” The ones that are interwoven with the lady’s curls reek of “I’m so wealthy I have a maid who makes me a piece of art.” Might be a good theme for a self-important debutante who begins her redemption when the hero makes a quizzing comment about it. Or maybe he’s the snob and she explains … no, she’s definitely the over-privileged one. Fun!

    Reply
  8. Those head coverings (one could hardly call them hats, or even caps) are highly quizzical, as in “What the heck??” The ones that are interwoven with the lady’s curls reek of “I’m so wealthy I have a maid who makes me a piece of art.” Might be a good theme for a self-important debutante who begins her redemption when the hero makes a quizzing comment about it. Or maybe he’s the snob and she explains … no, she’s definitely the over-privileged one. Fun!

    Reply
  9. Those head coverings (one could hardly call them hats, or even caps) are highly quizzical, as in “What the heck??” The ones that are interwoven with the lady’s curls reek of “I’m so wealthy I have a maid who makes me a piece of art.” Might be a good theme for a self-important debutante who begins her redemption when the hero makes a quizzing comment about it. Or maybe he’s the snob and she explains … no, she’s definitely the over-privileged one. Fun!

    Reply
  10. Those head coverings (one could hardly call them hats, or even caps) are highly quizzical, as in “What the heck??” The ones that are interwoven with the lady’s curls reek of “I’m so wealthy I have a maid who makes me a piece of art.” Might be a good theme for a self-important debutante who begins her redemption when the hero makes a quizzing comment about it. Or maybe he’s the snob and she explains … no, she’s definitely the over-privileged one. Fun!

    Reply
  11. You may know that the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” is hugely popular in the United States. For some reason, it is especially loved by senior citizens. If you go into any senior residence or nursing home, you will invariably find the TV tuned to Jeopardy every evening at 7 PM.
    It is fun to participate in a quiz. When I was younger, I loved “Trivial Pursuit”. Geography and history were my best topics, I was never very up-to-date on popular culture. My brother was unbeatable when it came to sports trivia.

    Reply
  12. You may know that the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” is hugely popular in the United States. For some reason, it is especially loved by senior citizens. If you go into any senior residence or nursing home, you will invariably find the TV tuned to Jeopardy every evening at 7 PM.
    It is fun to participate in a quiz. When I was younger, I loved “Trivial Pursuit”. Geography and history were my best topics, I was never very up-to-date on popular culture. My brother was unbeatable when it came to sports trivia.

    Reply
  13. You may know that the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” is hugely popular in the United States. For some reason, it is especially loved by senior citizens. If you go into any senior residence or nursing home, you will invariably find the TV tuned to Jeopardy every evening at 7 PM.
    It is fun to participate in a quiz. When I was younger, I loved “Trivial Pursuit”. Geography and history were my best topics, I was never very up-to-date on popular culture. My brother was unbeatable when it came to sports trivia.

    Reply
  14. You may know that the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” is hugely popular in the United States. For some reason, it is especially loved by senior citizens. If you go into any senior residence or nursing home, you will invariably find the TV tuned to Jeopardy every evening at 7 PM.
    It is fun to participate in a quiz. When I was younger, I loved “Trivial Pursuit”. Geography and history were my best topics, I was never very up-to-date on popular culture. My brother was unbeatable when it came to sports trivia.

    Reply
  15. You may know that the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” is hugely popular in the United States. For some reason, it is especially loved by senior citizens. If you go into any senior residence or nursing home, you will invariably find the TV tuned to Jeopardy every evening at 7 PM.
    It is fun to participate in a quiz. When I was younger, I loved “Trivial Pursuit”. Geography and history were my best topics, I was never very up-to-date on popular culture. My brother was unbeatable when it came to sports trivia.

    Reply
  16. Thanks for the interesting post. Y’all always make me think. I am a fan of Jeopardy. I have a head filled with things that are very unimportant and obscure. So, Jeopardy is my kind of show. It has been a long time, but Trivial Pursuit was a game I enjoyed. As I say, I have no idea about the important things, but I know “stuff”.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for the interesting post. Y’all always make me think. I am a fan of Jeopardy. I have a head filled with things that are very unimportant and obscure. So, Jeopardy is my kind of show. It has been a long time, but Trivial Pursuit was a game I enjoyed. As I say, I have no idea about the important things, but I know “stuff”.

    Reply
  18. Thanks for the interesting post. Y’all always make me think. I am a fan of Jeopardy. I have a head filled with things that are very unimportant and obscure. So, Jeopardy is my kind of show. It has been a long time, but Trivial Pursuit was a game I enjoyed. As I say, I have no idea about the important things, but I know “stuff”.

    Reply
  19. Thanks for the interesting post. Y’all always make me think. I am a fan of Jeopardy. I have a head filled with things that are very unimportant and obscure. So, Jeopardy is my kind of show. It has been a long time, but Trivial Pursuit was a game I enjoyed. As I say, I have no idea about the important things, but I know “stuff”.

    Reply
  20. Thanks for the interesting post. Y’all always make me think. I am a fan of Jeopardy. I have a head filled with things that are very unimportant and obscure. So, Jeopardy is my kind of show. It has been a long time, but Trivial Pursuit was a game I enjoyed. As I say, I have no idea about the important things, but I know “stuff”.

    Reply
  21. LOL, Mary! Yes, the head coverings are very impractical and shriek wealth and status, don’t they! You could indeed write a while book about their quizzical nature…

    Reply
  22. LOL, Mary! Yes, the head coverings are very impractical and shriek wealth and status, don’t they! You could indeed write a while book about their quizzical nature…

    Reply
  23. LOL, Mary! Yes, the head coverings are very impractical and shriek wealth and status, don’t they! You could indeed write a while book about their quizzical nature…

    Reply
  24. LOL, Mary! Yes, the head coverings are very impractical and shriek wealth and status, don’t they! You could indeed write a while book about their quizzical nature…

    Reply
  25. LOL, Mary! Yes, the head coverings are very impractical and shriek wealth and status, don’t they! You could indeed write a while book about their quizzical nature…

    Reply
  26. Oh yes, I have heard of Jeopardy although I’ve never seen it. I used to enjoy trivial pursuit as well. it’s great for a team if you all have your personal best topics.

    Reply
  27. Oh yes, I have heard of Jeopardy although I’ve never seen it. I used to enjoy trivial pursuit as well. it’s great for a team if you all have your personal best topics.

    Reply
  28. Oh yes, I have heard of Jeopardy although I’ve never seen it. I used to enjoy trivial pursuit as well. it’s great for a team if you all have your personal best topics.

    Reply
  29. Oh yes, I have heard of Jeopardy although I’ve never seen it. I used to enjoy trivial pursuit as well. it’s great for a team if you all have your personal best topics.

    Reply
  30. Oh yes, I have heard of Jeopardy although I’ve never seen it. I used to enjoy trivial pursuit as well. it’s great for a team if you all have your personal best topics.

    Reply
  31. Sometimes it turns out very useful to know “stuff” doesn’t it! We all accumulate bits of knowledge over the years and then sometimes it will just pop up!

    Reply
  32. Sometimes it turns out very useful to know “stuff” doesn’t it! We all accumulate bits of knowledge over the years and then sometimes it will just pop up!

    Reply
  33. Sometimes it turns out very useful to know “stuff” doesn’t it! We all accumulate bits of knowledge over the years and then sometimes it will just pop up!

    Reply
  34. Sometimes it turns out very useful to know “stuff” doesn’t it! We all accumulate bits of knowledge over the years and then sometimes it will just pop up!

    Reply
  35. Sometimes it turns out very useful to know “stuff” doesn’t it! We all accumulate bits of knowledge over the years and then sometimes it will just pop up!

    Reply
  36. I love quizzes!!! My husband and I used to go to pub quizzes at our local with another couple. Covid put an end to all that. When the pub reopened, the hours were shorter and there wasn’t anything like that held there anymore.
    A great post!

    Reply
  37. I love quizzes!!! My husband and I used to go to pub quizzes at our local with another couple. Covid put an end to all that. When the pub reopened, the hours were shorter and there wasn’t anything like that held there anymore.
    A great post!

    Reply
  38. I love quizzes!!! My husband and I used to go to pub quizzes at our local with another couple. Covid put an end to all that. When the pub reopened, the hours were shorter and there wasn’t anything like that held there anymore.
    A great post!

    Reply
  39. I love quizzes!!! My husband and I used to go to pub quizzes at our local with another couple. Covid put an end to all that. When the pub reopened, the hours were shorter and there wasn’t anything like that held there anymore.
    A great post!

    Reply
  40. I love quizzes!!! My husband and I used to go to pub quizzes at our local with another couple. Covid put an end to all that. When the pub reopened, the hours were shorter and there wasn’t anything like that held there anymore.
    A great post!

    Reply
  41. Yes, it’s a great example of a word that changes and develops over time. I thought “quoz” was interesting too!

    Reply
  42. Yes, it’s a great example of a word that changes and develops over time. I thought “quoz” was interesting too!

    Reply
  43. Yes, it’s a great example of a word that changes and develops over time. I thought “quoz” was interesting too!

    Reply
  44. Yes, it’s a great example of a word that changes and develops over time. I thought “quoz” was interesting too!

    Reply
  45. Yes, it’s a great example of a word that changes and develops over time. I thought “quoz” was interesting too!

    Reply

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