Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tests, Assessments, & Quizzes


Tests, Assessments, & Quizzes

Last week’s entry took a look at the words learn & study. This week we’ll take an etymological look at a topic that (in my humble opinion) has been getting an inordinate amount of focus – the purported measurement of learning.

The word test came to English in the 1300s through Old French from Latin, originally meaning an earthen pot used in assaying precious metals. It took till 1590 for it to generalize to mean trial or examination to determine correctness.

In the last few decades, the educational community has become fond of the word assessment, which showed up in English in the 1540s, and, like test, came through Old French from Latin. It originally referred to a value of property for tax purposes. Assess comes from the Latin word assidere, to sit by (referring to the fact that the judge or assessor was usually seated while proclaiming property’s value). By the 1640s assessment also meant an estimation. Assessment didn’t discover its application to education until the 1950s.

The verb quiz, showed up in English in 1847 from the Latin qui es?, who are you? (the first thing one must answer on a quiz). By 1867, quiz made its way into the world of nouns, however, at that point quiz meant an odd or eccentric person. Quiz’s next life as a noun started in 1807, when a quiz was a hoax, a practical joke, or piece of humbug. By 1891 the noun quiz began its long association with the classroom & began to mean the act of questioning, specifically of a class or student by a teacher.

So, dear blogophiles, what irony, humor, or intrigue do you find in these word histories?




My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com  MerriamWebster.com, & the OED.



5 comments:

  1. Okay...I have to ask. Do you think that "ass" and "derriere" came from assidere? I had no idea quiz was such an interesting word. I would like to say to someone one day, "You are such a quiz." I love these posts! Thanks!

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  2. I remember when I was in school thinking a lot of those quizzes were pieces of humbug :-) Fascinating as usual, Mr. Monger!

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  3. Also, assay as in "gold is assayed to determine its purity: evaluate, assess, appraise, analyze, examine, test, inspect, scrutinize, probe." (Ass-cribed from the Apple-based dictionary.)

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  4. Hi Christine, Anne & Steve,
    Thanks for chiming in. I'm loving the fact that since their entrance into the language, the words test & assessment have been associated with taxes, sitting, trials & estimation. I'd say things haven't changed much, accept that a huge chunk of our taxes now go to have kids sit & feel on trial, giving us a very vague estimation of what they know.

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  5. So Christine,
    I just checked on your question about ass & derriere. It amazes me that ass started out meaning donkey, while arse meant derriere, then arse lost its r. The two meanings came from different sources. Derriere comes from Latin deretro, which sounds a bit redundant to me - the backside of the backside?

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