"trivialities, bits of information of little consequence," by 1932, from the title of a popular book by U.S.-born British aphorist Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946) first published in 1902 but popularized in 1918 (with "More Trivia" following in 1921 and a collected edition including both in 1933), containing short essays often tied to observation of small things and commonplace moments. Trivia is Latin, plural of trivium "place where three roads meet;" in transferred use, "an open place, a public place." The adjectival form of this, trivialis, meant "public," hence "common, commonplace" (see trivial).
The Romans also had trivius dea, the "goddess of three ways," another name for Hecate, perhaps originally in her triple aspect (Selene/Diana/Proserpine), but also as the especial divinity of crossroads (Virgil has "Nocturnisque hecate triviis ululata per urbes"). John Gay took this arbitrarily as the name of a goddess of streets and roads for his mock Georgic "Trivia: Or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London" (1716); Smith writes in his autobiography that he got the title from Gay.
I KNOW too much; I have stuffed too many of the facts of History and Science into my intellectuals. My eyes have grown dim over books; believing in geological periods, cave dwellers, Chinese Dynasties, and the fixed stars has prematurely aged me. ["Trivia," 1918 edition]
Then noted c. 1965 as an informal fad game among college students wherein one asked questions about useless bits of information from popular culture ("What was Donald Duck's address?") and others vied to answer first.
Nobody really wins in this game which concentrates on sports, comics and television. Everyone knows that Amos's wife on the "Amos 'n' Andy Show" is Ruby, but who knows that she is from Marietta, Georgia? Trivia players do. They also know the fourth man in the infield of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, the Canadian who shot down Baron Von Richtofen, and can name ten Hardy Boy books. [Princeton Alumni Weekly, Nov. 9, 1965]
The board game Trivial Pursuit was released 1982 and was a craze in U.S. for several years thereafter.
A sound found chiefly in words of Old English, Old Norse or Greek origin, unpronounceable by Normans and many other Europeans. In Greek, the sound corresponds etymologically to Sanskrit -dh- and English -d-; and it was represented graphically by -TH- and at first pronounced as a true aspirate (as still in English outhouse, shithead, etc.).
But by 2c. B.C.E. the Greek letter theta was in universal use and had the modern "-th-" sound. Latin had neither the letter nor the sound, however, and the Romans represented Greek theta by -TH-, which they generally pronounced, at least in Late Latin, as simple "-t-" (passed down to Romanic languages, as in Spanish termal "thermal," teoria "theory," teatro "theater").
In Germanic languages it represents PIE *-t- and was common at the start of words or after stressed vowels. To represent it, Old English and Old Norse used the characters ð "eth" (a modified form of -d-) and þ "thorn," which originally was a rune. Old English, unlike Old Norse, seems never to have standardized which of the two versions of the sound ("hard" and "soft") was represented by which of the two letters.
The digraph -th- sometimes appears in early Old English, on the Roman model, and it returned in Middle English with the French scribes, driving out eth by c. 1250, but thorn persisted, especially in demonstratives (þat, þe, þis, etc.), even as other words were being spelled with -th-. The advent of printing dealt its death-blow, however, as types were imported from continental founders, who had no thorn. For a time y was used in its place (especially in Scotland), because it had a similar shape, hence ye for the in historical tourist trap Ye Olde _______ Shoppe (it never was pronounced "ye," only spelled that way).
The awareness that some Latin words in t- were from Greek th- encouraged over-correction in English and created unetymological forms such as Thames and author, while some words borrowed from Romanic languages preserve, on the Roman model, the Greek -th- spelling but the simple Latin "t" pronunciation (as in Thomas and thyme).
*stā-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to stand, set down, make or be firm," with derivatives meaning "place or thing that is standing."
It forms all or part of: Afghanistan; Anastasia; apostasy; apostate; armistice; arrest; assist; astatic; astatine; Baluchistan; bedstead; circumstance; consist; constable; constant; constitute; contrast; cost; desist; destination; destine; destitute; diastase; distance; distant; ecstasy; epistasis; epistemology; establish; estaminet; estate; etagere; existence; extant; Hindustan; histidine; histo-; histogram; histology; histone; hypostasis; insist; instant; instauration; institute; interstice; isostasy; isostatic; Kazakhstan; metastasis; obstacle; obstetric; obstinate; oust; Pakistan; peristyle; persist; post (n.1) "timber set upright;" press (v.2) "force into service;" presto; prostate; prostitute; resist; rest (v.2) "to be left, remain;" restitution; restive; restore; shtetl; solstice; stable (adj.) "secure against falling;" stable (n.) "building for domestic animals;" stage; stalag; stalwart; stamen; -stan; stance; stanchion; stand; standard; stanza; stapes; starboard; stare decisis; stasis; -stat; stat; state (n.1) "circumstances, conditions;" stater; static; station; statistics; stator; statue; stature; status; statute; staunch; (adj.) "strong, substantial;" stay (v.1) "come to a halt, remain in place;" stay (n.2) "strong rope which supports a ship's mast;" stead; steed; steer (n.) "male beef cattle;" steer (v.) "guide the course of a vehicle;" stem (n.) "trunk of a plant;" stern (n.) "hind part of a ship;" stet; stoa; stoic; stool; store; stound; stow; stud (n.1) "nailhead, knob;" stud (n.2) "horse kept for breeding;" stylite; subsist; substance; substitute; substitution; superstition; system; Taurus; understand.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit tisthati "stands;" Avestan histaiti "to stand;" Persian -stan "country," literally "where one stands;" Greek histēmi "put, place, cause to stand; weigh," stasis "a standing still," statos "placed," stylos "pillar;" Latin sistere "stand still, stop, make stand, place, produce in court," status "manner, position, condition, attitude," stare "to stand," statio "station, post;" Lithuanian stojuos "I place myself," statau "I place;" Old Church Slavonic staja "place myself," stanu "position;" Gothic standan, Old English standan "to stand," stede "place;" Old Norse steði "anvil;" Old Irish sessam "the act of standing."
1507, "the western hemisphere, North and South America," in Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller's treatise "Cosmographiae Introductio," from Modern Latin Americanus, after Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) who made two trips to the New World as a navigator and claimed to have discovered it. His published works put forward the idea that it was a new continent, and he was first to call it Novus Mundus "New World." Amerigo is more easily Latinized than Vespucci (Latin Vesputius, which might have yielded place-name Vesputia). The sense in English naturally was restricted toward the British colonies, then the United States.
The man's name Amerigo is Germanic, said to derive from Gothic Amalrich, literally "work-ruler." The Old English form of the name has come down as surnames Emmerich, Emery, etc. The Italian fem. form merged into Amelia.
Colloquial pronunciation "Ameri-kay," not uncommon 19c., goes back to at least 1643 and a poem that rhymed the word with away. Amerika "U.S. society viewed as racist, fascist, oppressive, etc." is attested from 1969; the spelling is German but may also suggest the KKK.
It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have the power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about "Appalachia." In the first place, it is distinctive. "America" is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to use it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is "America," and will insist upon remaining so. [Edgar Allan Poe, "Marginalia," in Graham's Magazine, Philadelphia, December 1846]
FREDONIA, FREDONIAN, FREDE, FREDISH, &c. &c. These extraordinary words, which have been deservedly ridiculed here as well as in England, were proposed sometime ago, and countenanced by two or three individuals, as names for the territory and people of the United States. The general term American is now commonly understood (at least in all places where the English language is spoken,) to mean an inhabitant of the United States; and is so employed, except where unusual precision of language is required. [John Pickering, "A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases Which Have Been Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America," Boston, 1816]
"to have sexual intercourse with" (transitive), until recently a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original OED when the "F" entries were compiled (1893-97). Johnson also had excluded the word, and fuck wasn't in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. "The Penguin Dictionary" broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with "The American Heritage Dictionary," but it also published a "Clean Green" edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.
Written form attested from at least early 16c.; OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit, and the earliest attested appearance of current spelling is 1535 ("Bischops ... may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit" [Sir David Lyndesay, "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits"]). Presumably it is a more ancient word, but one not written in the kind of texts that have survived from Old English and Middle English [September 2015: the verb appears to have been found recently in an English court manuscript from 1310]. Buck cites proper name John le Fucker from 1278, but that surname could have other explanations. The word apparently is hinted at in a scurrilous 15c. poem, titled "Flen flyys" ["Fleas, Flies (and Friars)"], written in bastard Latin and Middle English. The relevant line reads:
Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli
"They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely." Fuccant is pseudo-Latin, and in the original it is written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise are from Scottish, which suggests a Scandinavian origin, perhaps from a word akin to Norwegian dialectal fukka "copulate," or Swedish dialectal focka "copulate, strike, push," and fock "penis."
Another theory traces the Modern English verb to Middle English fyke, fike "move restlessly, fidget" (see fike) which also meant "dally, flirt," and probably is from a general North Sea Germanic word (compare Middle Dutch fokken, German ficken "fuck," earlier "make quick movements to and fro, flick," still earlier "itch, scratch;" the vulgar sense attested from 16c.). This would parallel in sense the vulgar Middle English term for "have sexual intercourse," swive, from Old English swifan "to move lightly over, sweep" (see swivel). But OED remarks that these "cannot be shown to be related" to the English word. Liberman has this to say:
Germanic words of similar form (f + vowel + consonant) and meaning 'copulate' are numerous. One of them is G. ficken. They often have additional senses, especially 'cheat,' but their basic meaning is 'move back and forth.' ... Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.
Chronology and phonology rule out Shipley's attempt to derive it from Middle English firk "to press hard, beat." The unkillable urban legend that this word is an acronym of some sort (a fiction traceable on the internet to 1995 but probably predating that), and the "pluck yew" fable, are results of ingenious trifling (also see here). The Old English verb for "have sexual intercourse with" was hæman, from ham "dwelling, home," with a sense of "take home, co-habit." French foutre and Italian fottere seem to resemble the English word but are unrelated, descending rather from Latin futuere, which perhaps is from PIE root *bhau- "to strike," extended via a figurative use "from the sexual application of violent action" [Shipley; compare the sexual slang use of bang, etc.].
Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word continued in common speech, however. During World War I:
It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger. [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
The legal barriers against use in print broke down in mid-20c. with the "Ulysses" decision (U.S., 1933) and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (U.S., 1959; U.K., 1960). The major breakthrough in publication was James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" (1950), with 50 fucks (down from 258 in the original manuscript).
The abbreviation F (or eff) probably began as euphemistic, but by 1943 it was regarded as a cuss word in its own right. In 1948, the publishers of "The Naked and the Dead" persuaded Norman Mailer to use the euphemism fug. When Mailer later was introduced to Dorothy Parker, she greeted him with, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck' " [The quip sometimes is attributed to Tallulah Bankhead]. As a written euphemism, muck is attested by 1929 (Hemingway used it in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," 1940). Related: Fucked; fucking.
Fuck-all "nothing" first recorded 1960. Verbal phrase fuck up "to ruin, spoil, destroy" is attested from c. 1916. A widespread group of Slavic words (such as Polish pierdolić) can mean both "fornicate" and "make a mistake." Fuck off is attested from 1929; as a command to depart, by 1944. Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, "If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!" [Reinhold Aman, "Maledicta," Summer 1977].
Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star Arcturus, which is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).
It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.
The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,--indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that "unlearned men" call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but form only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars. From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.