There is an enduring urban legend that suggests that Irish actor, and manager of the Smock Alley Theatre and afterwards the Theatre Royal in Dublin, Richard Daly (1758 – 1813) invented the word ‘Quiz’ to settle a bet in 1791.
The story goes that there was a gathering of the Dublin Volunteers to celebrate the birth of an heir to the Duke of Leinster in the Eagle Tavern in Eustache Street on August 21 1791. Present were ‘many of the wits and men of fashions of the day’ (1) as well as Daly who ‘had an extraordinary propensity for making wagers in reference to incidental maters, however unimportant’ (2).
During the evening a dispute arose about the exact meaning of a French phrase used by one of the volunteers named Delahoyde. In the following discussion, Daly made a bet that he could add a new word to the English language that ‘within forty-eight hours … (would) be on the mouths of the Dublin public, of all classes and sexes, young and old’. In order to win the wager, the word had to be ” altogether new and an unconnected by derivation from any wold in any other language’
As the legend goes, Daly sent all of his Theatre stage-hands and call-boys to chalk the letters ‘Q U I Z’ on the doors of shops, warehouses and people’s houses all over the city. People woke up on Sunday morning to be greeted with the word every where they looked. It soon became the talk of the town with neighbour asking neighbour what the word meant. After initial speculation that the word had something to do with politics or perhaps religion, the public of Dublin accepted that it had been successfully duped and the word became synonymous with the idea of a ‘hoax’ or something ‘strange’.
While it’s a splendid anecdote, the word ‘Quiz’ was certainly used pre 1791. It can found, for example, in Fanny Burney’s diary entry for 24 June 1782.
While this poem from Finns Leinster Journal predates the Daly story by two months:
While the word may not have been invented by Daly, it is true to say that it was not a commonly known word at the time, so it is possible (and quite nice to think) that Daly may have played some part in spreading the use of the word world-wide from little old Dublin.
The American website Museum of Hoaxes incidentally featured the story recently enough.
(1) Kazlitt Arvine, The cyclopaedia of anecdotes of literature and the fine arts (Boston, 1853), 694
(2) Frank Thorpe Porter, Gleanings and reminiscences (Dublin, 1875), 32