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Word for Wednesday: Trivia


Trivia is a word used to describe information that is of little importance or consequence. You may have heard the term used in reference to quiz games. What’s interesting about the word trivia is that, compared to most of the words we look at in our Word for Wednesday feature, it isn’t that old.

Trivialities, bits of information of little consequence was a book first published in 1902 and made popular when it was rereleased in 1918. A follow-up More Trivia was released in 1921 and by 1932 the word trivia was widely used in the English language. Both books were published as a collected edition in 1933. Later, in the 1960s, college students began informally quizzing one another – swapping trivia – on popular culture from when they were young. The first documented reference to this game as trivia was in 1965. The game Trivial Pursuit was released in 1982 and was hugely popular. 

Although the noun trivia only dates to the twentieth century, the adjective trivial dates back to the sixteenth century. It was used to mean ‘ordinary’ from the 1580s and later, popularised by the works of Shakespeare, to mean ‘insignificant’ or ‘unimportant’. The word comes from the Latin ‘trivialis’ meaning ‘common’ or ‘vulgar’ from ‘trivium’ which literally means ‘place where three roads meet’. The connection between the three roads would have been considered ‘public’ or ‘common’ land, hence the meaning ‘commonplace’. 

The prefix tri- is used in many English words associated with the number three and via is a preposition to describe the route of travel. 
 


07 Aug 2019
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