Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: quiz

The derivation of the word “quiz” is uncertain. The Oxford Dictionaries definition notes that it is “sometimes said to have been invented by a Dublin theatre proprietor who, having made a bet that a nonsense word could be made known within 48 hours throughout the city, and that the public would give it a meaning, had the word written up on walls all over the city”. It then concludes: “There is no evidence to support this theory”.

Marcus Berkmann, in his book “A matter of facts” (which I have previously mentioned in this piece) tells us that this happened (if it happened at all) around 1780 and that the theatre proprietor was called Daly. A quiz originally meant “a person who banters or chaffs another” and soon came to mean “any odd or eccentric person”. Within 20 years the word was used in Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”, in the sentence “Where did you get that quiz of a hat?” By 1810 the word had come to mean “a practical joke, a hoax or a piece of humbug”, as used by Sir Walter Scott in 1810: “I am impatient to know if the whole be not one grand blunder or quiz”. (All of the quotes in this paragraph come from Berkmann’s book.)

By 1867 the word was being used in America in its modern meaning of “A test of knowledge, especially as a competition between individuals or teams as a form of entertainment” (using the Oxford Dictionary definition again). It’s also a verb, of course, meaning to question someone.

There are, appropriately enough, two very elegant quiz questions that can be constructed which each require the answer “QUIZ”. The first was in the series final of “Only Connect” back in April, related to the capital cities of Ecuador, Mongolia, Pakistan and Croatia. If you look at a list of capital cities you’ll notice that many of them begin with the same letter. Abu Dhabi, Abuja and Accra are the first three, alphabetically; Abidjan used to be #1 but it’s now the former capital of Ivory Coast (or Cote d’Ivoire, as it should be called). There are four capital cities which begin with a unique letter, and they are in the four countries mentioned above: Quito, Ulaanbaatar, Islamabad and Zagreb. The initial letters spell out the word QUIZ, so a relevant quiz question could be: “What word will you get if you take the initial letters from the capital cities of Ecuador, Mongolia, Pakistan and Croatia?”

The same word provides the answer to this Scrabble-related question: What is the only English word that has the letter values 10-1-1-10 in Scrabble? If you know your letter values this is a straightforward enough question, as is this one, which I included in this earlier piece: which word has the letter values 8-1-1-8? The answers, and I probably don’t have to tell you this, are QUIZ and JINX.

Finally, in case you’re wondering about the current official capital of Cote d’Ivoire, it’s Yamoussoukro, and it’s not the only one that begins with a “Y”. There’s also Yaoundé (Cameroon) and Yerevan (Armenia). Happy quizzing.



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