Trivial concept – word uses, origin and synonyms

We explain what is trivial, the origin of the word and its synonyms. Also, how its meaning has changed throughout history.

The trivial can be something everyday or something superficial, unimportant.

What is trivial?

By the adjective trivial it is understood something that, by ordinary and known to all, lacks novelty or importance. The terms banal, vulgar or common are synonyms of this word: a “trivial conversation” is one in which nothing deep or important is discussed; while a “trivial situation” can refer to everyday life, to what happens without being exceptional in any way.

The origin of the word trivial dates back to Latin trivialis, derived from trivium, a term translatable as “three-way crossing”. The historical explanation of this dictates that ancient Rome could be reached from different corners of the Roman Empire through three main roads, which eventually converged into one.

In that meeting place, there were inns, posts and places of rest for the traveler, where people of diverse origin and different interests met, among whom only superficial conversations could take place, that is, conversations of the trivium, conversations trivial.

Given that the typical of the encounters that occurred between travelers, prostitutes and soldiers in these inns on the way in ancient times, was that they were handled in colloquial, vulgar and popular terms, the trivial for us still has connotations linked to the uneducated, the vulgar or unrefined. In fact, in Italian it is still called trivia to foul or foul language.

However, the term trivium it was used during the European Middle Ages in the context of university education, which consisted of teaching the so-called seven “liberal arts” or higher: grammar, dialectics, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

Among them, those related to the command of the word and argumentation constituted the trivium, while those related to mathematics made up the quadrivium. In order to address the latter, the first three had to be mastered first, further reinforcing the concept that trivial is basic, simple, less elaborate.