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Five questions about weird words – Quick Quiz answers

We asked you five quick trivia questions about weird words. Here are the answers:

  1. Trivial is derived from the Latin trivium, or “three ways”. Mediæval universities used to offer seven Liberal Arts, of which the Trivium of rhetoric, logic and grammar were studied first in preparation for the more difficult Quadrivium of astronomy, music, geometry and arithmetic. By extension the description of something as “trivial” came to mean something of comparatively little intellectual weight.
  2. In the American colonies back in the 17th century, a backlog was exactly what it said on the tin – a big log for the back of the fire. The idea was that the backlog would smoulder for days on end, giving a constant background heat for the room during winter even overnight. More recently it came to mean first a reserve, then a build-up of delayed work.
  3. Originally a Tory was a robber or brigand. (Plus ça change…) The word comes from the Middle Irish tóraidhe, meaning “a pursued man”, and was initially adopted in politics in the late 17th century as a term of abuse for supporters of the deposed James VII & II (a Catholic) by supporters of William of Orange (a Protestant – the original “King Billy”). Over the next century it came to be applied to those who supported the King, the nobility and the Established Church against constitutional reform and Nonconformism – in other words, the forerunners of the Conservatives.
  4. The word googol can be traced definitively to one person and a specific year. In 1938 US mathematician Edward Kasner was casting around for a word to describe 10100 (10 raised to the power of 100, or 1 followed by 100 zeroes). He asked his nephew, nine-year-old Milton Sirotta, who came up with “googol” – later borrowed and tweaked by Larry Page and Sergey Brin as a name for their search engine.
  5. A mogul was originally a Mongol – a member of the Asiatic people that conquered the Chinese empire and most of Central Asia. The term Mughal was applied by South Asians to any of those people, but gradually came to be applied by Westerners to the Mughal (or Moghul) dynasty of emperors who ruled most of northern South Asia for over two centuries. By extension a wealthy and powerful business leader came to be known as a mogul, particularly in the film industry.

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