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Headmaster's Blog: Trivia: not as trivial as you might thinkMany things are worth doing, reading, watching, experiencing for no other reason than that they are.


Date published: Wed 21 Nov 2018  


A bit of trivia to begin with. With Macbeth coming up soon, excitingly, it was particularly interesting to pop into some Fourth Form lessons on Friday where it’s being studied. I remember from school the line about Macbeth hesitating ‘like the poor cat i’ the adage’ which was the bit one set were working on. I mentioned to Mr Michael that I’ve never known what proverb Shakespeare can possibly have been talking about, and he told me - one about a cat who wants the fish, but doesn’t want to get his paws wet. Hence, he hesitates. Mind you, why we should pity the cat, I’ve no idea. Anyway, thank you Mr Michael.

Incidentally, the new English rooms, with their boards on all sides for groups to brainstorm ideas, seem to be a great success!

Trivia got a bad name this week in New Zealand, with a report that students had complained the use of the word ‘trivial’ in an exam question was unfair, since some students had not understood it. The question therefore discriminated against them. Now, we can all have a good old rant about how ridiculous that is, and of course on one level it is. It’s not an unusual word, for a start, and probably guessable in context. A confident student might even explain what he or she thought it meant and on what basis he was writing his answer, and that would be fine. It’s the helplessness which is so depressing.

But it set me checking what ‘trivial’ actually means, and in fact, trivia is far from, well, trivial. The ‘trivium’ was the introductory course at early universities, consisting of grammar, rhetoric and logic (three ways ... ). So though we now use the term to mean things that are unimportant, in some ways the way the word has changed in use is a good illustration of the view that everything is in some ways important. Bits of knowledge, a ‘good one for a pub quiz’, an unusual observation - all of these have their place. Which is as good an answer as any to that endlessly irritating question ‘is it on the syllabus?’ that you hear in some schools.

As if we only did things in life because there is some immediate purpose. Many things are worth doing, reading, watching, experiencing for no other reason than that they are, of themselves. You don’t watch the excellent 1st XV excitingly beat Dulwich for any other purpose than enjoy it, to give another example.

So long live trivia. Which is far from trivial.

  • Academic

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