Posted on by Peter Rettig

Quick Games and Trivia Quizzes with GamesforLanguage

New York Times Trivia Quiz HeadlineI recently looked at a New York Times Trivia Quiz and was amazed at how esoteric some of the questions were.

As the new GamesforLanguage Trivia Quizzes are beginning to attract some followers, I wondered about the origin of "trivia" and "trivial", both words that connote a lack of importance.

The Etymology of "Trivia"

Italian speakers will easily discover an original meaning: "tri" "via," based on the Latin neuter noun "trivium" - plural "trivia" means "a place where three ways meet."

In ancient Rome it meant a junction of three roads, but also the three "Artes Liberales": grammar, logic, rhetoric, which - in medieval Latin became the lower division of the Artes Liberales.

The Wikipedia entry "Trivia" explains further how the adjective "trivial" was introduced:
- A 15th century English translation of Ranulf Higdon mentions the arte trivialle, referring to the trivium of the Liberal Arts.[1]
- The same work also calls a "triuialle distinccion" a threefold division. This is due to an application of the term by Arnobius, and was never common either in Latin or English.[2]
- The meaning "trite, commonplace, unimportant, slight" occurs from the late 16th century, notably in the works of Shakespeare.[3]

Today, Merriam-Webster defines "Trivia" as:
- unimportant facts or details
- facts about people, events that are not well-known

Why are we interested in "Trivia Quizzes"?

The Webster definition may give a clue: Although the facts, which Trivia Quizzes often ask, are indeed "unimportant" per se, they may also not be well-known. And, what is well-known to some, may not be well-known to others.

A foreign language is a case in point: For all those who know what the Italian word "via" means, asking for the translation of road/street indeed appears appears trivial. But, if you don't know, or are not sure, finding the answer will satisfy your curiosity - assuming that you are interested in Italian in the first place.

Therefore, for those who are curious about the Italian language and facts, even if those appear trivial to Italian speakers, playing Italian Trivia quizzes can be both rewarding and entertaining for those who still need to learn the language!

For those who are generally curious about "unimportant facts or details," the New York Times Trivia Quiz certainly challenges you to discover the "facts about people, events that are not well-known".