Shedding some clarity on trivia for Trivia Day, which is on January 4th.
The day celebrates the entertainment value of trivia. We understand trivia to mean information of little value. Celebrating today are the people who remember these tidbits of information and enjoy sharing them.
The original meaning of the word trivia contrasts with its modern use. There is a lesson for us here when we think about using everyday words.
Trivia comes from the Latin term for the intersection of 3 paths. In the Middle Ages it referred to the disciplines of grammar and logic studied in liberal arts. Modern academics don’t consider those trivial subjects.
In 1902 a book was published called Trivialities, Bits of Information of Little Consequence. Thus, the modern meaning: of little importance. But it wasn’t until the 60s that trivia became popular as entertainment. And we can blame it on the weekly newspaper of Columbia University that published a trivia game in 1965.
Here is some trivia for admirers of clear language
You know jargon, but did you know the verb is jargonize? What about jargogle? It has a similar spelling and sound, but a completely different origin. It’s a verb meaning to obscure or confuse things. In 1692, John Locke wrote, “I fear, that the jumbling of those good and plausible Words in your Head..might a little jargogle your Thoughts…”.
And now, according to the Urban Dictionary, there is a new variant: Jargoogle. This is when you have a typo in a word or phrase in a search engine and you are confused or surprised by the results you get.
2019 will not be a trivial year in history. We’d like to start the year with this toast written by Dashiell Hammett in the Maltese Falcon:
Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.