The Cultural History Society of Portland has just invited me to give a guest lecture on Latin pedagogy; their president, Richard Howell, attended my lecture on “The Past, Present, and Future of Latin Pedagogy” at a conference two years ago in Spokane, and as fellow classicists here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve remained in contact ever since. As a result, he’s invited me to give an encore performance; my lecture down in Portland is scheduled for September 24.
My English friend Robert recently turned me on to a great trivia website called Sporcle. It’s free to join, it has thousands of trivia quizzes on every conceivable subject, and it even includes a social networking aspect in which players can comment on each others’ quizzes. There are fifteen categories such as Language, Literature, History, Geography, and Religion. Many of the quizzes are genuinely educational, so much so that some of the users refer to the website tongue-in-cheek as “Sporcle University.” The users also have some weird obsession with–I kid you not–the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Despite that, the users seem like a friendly and harmless bunch.
Another odd thing about this wonderful website is the name. Apparently the website administrators claim it was just a nonsense word, but I don’t for one second believe that anyone smart enough to create a website like this would choose a meaningless name out of a hat. There must be a hidden story behind it, but in the meantime, I’ll speculate recklessly.
English words ending in -cle are usually derived from Latin diminutives (such as the English words “carbuncle” and “corpuscle”), though some enter English with the unchanged -culum ending (such as “reticulum” or “speculum”). Unfortunately, I can’t find a Latin word similar to *sporculum, regardless of gender. The closest I can find is sportula, which originally meant “little basket” then also came to mean “prize” or “gift” because the Romans used little baskets for delivering gifts. I’m not sure of the etymology of sportula because it’s clearly not a diminutive of the standard Latin word for “basket,” namely corbis. (I have a fondness for the word corbis because it’s an anagram of scribo, the Latin word for “I write,” and this was the first Latin anagram pair I discovered when I first studied Latin in school. Talk about an irrelevant tangent.) Of course, the sportula etymology is speculative at best, but the crux remains: if you enjoy trivia, check out Sporcle.