A Word A Day : Quizzical

Tuesday, 18th December 2007 : Today's Word is ...


( Adjective )

Pronunciation : kwí-zzi-k'l

1. expressing a question, puzzlement or doubt in a mocking or amused way

2. playfully vexing (especially by ridicule)

3. perplexed (as if being expected to know something that you do not know)

4. confused, curious in appearance


Word History: The origins of the word quiz are as difficult to pin down as the answers to some quizzes. We can say that its first recorded sense has to do with people, not tests. The term, first recorded in 1782, meant an odd or eccentric person. From the noun in this sense came a verb meaning to make sport or fun of and to regard mockingly. In English dialects and probably in American English the verb quiz acquired senses relating to interrogation and questioning. This presumably occurred because quiz was associated with question, inquisitive, or perhaps the English dialect verb quiset, to question (probably itself short for obsolete inquisite, to investigate). From this new area of meaning came the noun and verb senses all too familiar to students. The second recorded instance of the noun sense occurs in the writings of no less an educator than William James, who in a December 26, 1867, letter proffers the hope that perhaps giving quizzes in anatomy and physiology . . . may help along.


questioning, curious, puzzled, surprised, perplexed, inquiring, amused, sardonic, ironic


believing, trusting, unsuspicious, certain, understanding

Contextual Examples:

• The dog had a quizzical look on its face as it watched the rabbit bound by.

• His face wore a somewhat quizzical almost impertinent air.

Related Words :

1. quizzicality: Noun

2. quizzically: Adverb

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