Number one for English language teachers

Word of the week: Trivial

Type: Reference material

Have you ever been to a dinner party and tried to impress others with unimportant facts? Chances are that you engaged in some trivial conversation. Tim Bowen presents us with some trivia surrounding the origin of this Word of the week.

The well-known board game Trivial Pursuit was first developed in 1979 and reached the height of its popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s with tens of millions of sets being sold. In the UK, quiz competitions based on trivia, defined by The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners as 'unimportant details or pieces of information', are extremely popular and some people take great pride in their knowledge of trivial facts such as Madonna's star sign or the name of the person 18th in line to the British throne.

Trivial is widely used to describe activities that are not serious or important in some way. The police are sometimes criticized for bringing trivial cases to court and a former president of Pakistan once caused a row by suggesting that cricket was a trivial matter in relations between his country and India.

The origins of trivial lie in medieval education, where students could follow the 'four roads' of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, or alternately the trivium, the 'three roads' of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The subjects of the ‘three roads’ came to be seen as less important than the more serious topics of the ‘four roads’ and trivial gradually took on the meaning of ‘unimportant’. 

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