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Some interesting (or not) trivia about trivia

What is the difference between “trivia” and “interesting information?”

Last week, I was watching a streamer on Twitch, and he had music on in the background. The Dolly Parton song “Nine to Five” came on and he turned it up, saying, “I love this song.”

I commented that I always found it neat that there were two songs called Nine to Five out at the same time, and both were hits.

“Sheena Easton had a song out in Europe,” I said, “which was called Nine to Five. When it was released in North America, they changed the title to Morning Train to avoid confusion with Parton’s song.”

The streamer, and a couple of the other people watching, found that interesting, since they remembered both songs, but hadn’t known about the connection. A couple of others, without being rude about it, basically said, “so what?”

That piece of trivia is one of thousands, or maybe even millions, which are stored somewhere in my mind, as is the origin of the word ‘trivia’. It comes from the Latin for ‘three roads’, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily what the word means.

Well, the Roman road system had a lot of places where one road split into two, so ‘trivium’ (as they spelled it) came to mean ‘commonplace’.

The word was then applied to the studies of grammar, rhetoric and logic, which were the subjects almost every student learned first. They then went on, usually, to the more ‘serious’ subjects of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (which, by the way, were called the ‘quadvium’, but who uses that word anymore).

When English became a language, ‘trivia’ basically (I’m skipping a lot of steps here) kept its meaning of commonplace, losing any real connection to the original meaning.

That’s how ‘trivia’ came to mean, to many people, knowledge which is basically useless in everyday life. I’ve always felt trivia is an important part of life, though.

As a newspaper reporter for quite a few years, I found it helpful to be able to recall a fact related to the story I was working on, and work it into the story, hopefully making it more interesting for the reader, instead of just a dry recitation of facts.

That’s why, when one of the people on that stream the other day addressed a remark to me about my “trivial mind,” I took it as a compliment.

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