Monday, March 07, 2011


SCOTT: I want to say the etymology of "trivial" is something like this. It comes from the Latin word "trivium," a combination of "tres" and "via," meaning where three roads meet. In Roman times, the "trivium" was our modern day water cooler. It's where you would go to talk about last night's "Lost" episode.* So the sort of mindless things people would chatter about came to be called "trivial." I want to say that's the etymology, but I suspect I made that up awhile ago and I can no longer distinguish the fact and the fabrication in my mind.

* Actually, "Lost" had not yet premiered in classical Rome. I throw that in there just to make it understandable for the modern audience. In truth, a Roman was more likely to be watching "Three's Company."

NB: The real etymology, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
early 15c., "of the trivium," from M.L. trivialis, from trivium "first three of the seven liberal arts," from L., lit. "place where three roads meet," from tri- "three" + via "road." The basic notion is of "that which may be found anywhere, commonplace, vulgar." The meaning "ordinary" (1580s) and "insignificant" (1590s) were in L. trivialis "commonplace, vulgar," originally "of or belonging to the crossroads."

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