THE WORD ‘QUIZ’

The word ‘Quiz’ is one of the strangest in the English language.

We know today it means a kind of entertainment used for testing general knowledge.

The word was introduced to the English language at the end of the eighteenth century as a result of a wager made with friends by an Irishman James Daly.

James Daly was the manager of the Theatre Royal in Dublin.

He made a bet with some friends that he could come up with a previously unheard of nonesense word in twenty-four hours and that the word could fall into popular usage.

James Daly came up with the word ‘Quiz’ and chalked it on walls, doors and windows across Dublin city.

This was on a Sunday and all shops were closed, so the writing of the new word was visible to everyone.

With good fortune, the matter became reported in newspapers in Dublin, London, Paris and as far afield as New York.

The word ‘Quiz’ had been born and James Daly won his wager/bet.

It is possible that the word was contrived out of the old English word ‘Inquisition’.  Connected words of regular usage are inquisitive, inquire and inquest.

At first, ‘Quiz’ was taken to mean someone who was pedantic and rule-bound rather than the definition we apply to it today.

It has been suggested that James Daly got the idea for the word, not from ‘inquisition’ but from the Latin question of ‘Qui es?’ (who are you?) which was used in Grammar School.

The inspiration may well have come from a play performed at the Theatre Royal that evening of the wager.

James Daly was certainly an educated fellow and it would not take too much imagination to turn ‘Qui es?’ into Quiz.

The meaning of the word ‘Quiz’ today takes that definition a step further and it refers to a spoken or written exercise where a number of short questions are asked as a fun test of general knowledge.

A quiz is not meant as a serious test or examination but it has been adapted for all sorts of general knowledge tests such as crosswords, puzzles and radio/Television shows and prizes awarded to the winner.

Perhaps three of the most famous and successful quiz shows of all time, marketed around the world, are ‘Mastermind’, ‘Three Two One’  and ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’.

The idea of a Quiz is that you answer questions quickly without having to look answers up.

‘Quizzical’ has become an additional word derived from ‘Quiz’ as the adjective for asking a question to someone or how someone may seem when faced with answering that question.

Nobody can say for sure that James Daly really did wager that bet and scrawl the word ‘Quiz’ all over Dublin city but it makes for an interesting story to tell and the graffiti message has stuck.

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