How to Use Trivia to Strengthen Your Writing

Trivia writingTrivia isn’t trivial when it comes to good writing. Use it wisely and judiciously and it will give your piece depth and make it more entertaining. Trivia can also be a great way to launch into an article, book or presentation; trivia, after all, is based on fact, however trivial it may be.

Below you’ll find examples of trivia I’ve used in my writing. As you’ll see, each piece can be used in many ways.

I suggest you start a clipping file. Dump into it anything you find remotely interesting. You never know when a piece might come in handy.

Numbers and percentages

  • 47 = number of days Matisse’s painting “The Boat” hung upside downin New York’s Museum of Modern Art before someone noticed the mistake.
  • 90, 53 and 5 = the number of gallons of water the average American, European and Saharan African uses daily, respectively.
  • 50 = percentage of arsonists who are younger than 21.
  • 1 in 10 = chance that a tsunami will hit the U.S. Pacific Northwest in the next 30 years.
  • 5,299 = student enrollment in America’s largest high school — Belmont H.S., Los Angeles
  • 10 = percentage of bank holdups by women (Federal crime statistic, reported in the Washington Post)

Stories behind common terms

Example: Blackmail
According to some, the practice of blackmail began in Scotland hundreds of years ago by the English, who owned much of the land and charged Scots a “mail” to farm it. Payment was to be made in silver and was referred to as “white mail.” Farmers who couldn’t raise the money paid in produce, which became known as “blackmail.” And “Dishonest” creditors began taking advantage of farmers, demanding goods in excess of the amounts owed and backed their demands with threats. Over time, the term came to be known as “blackmail.”


Example: For decades ending in 6

  • 1906 — San Francisco earthquake hits; U.S. Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection acts passed
  • 1916 — U.S. buys Virgin Islands from Denmark; establishes military government in Dominican Republic
  • 1926 — Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises published; Army Air Corps established
  • 1936 — Boulder Dam completed; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind published
  • 1946 — Philippines gains independence from U.S.; 400,000 U.S. mine workers go on strike
  • 1956 — First transatlantic cable activated; Federal interstate highway system inaugurated
  • 1966 — Medicare begins; first black U.S. senator in 85 years elected (Edward Brooke, R-MA)
  • 1976 — U.S. celebrates 200th anniversary of independence; Viking II lands on Mars
  • 1986 — Martin Luther King, Jr. day observed for the first time; space shuttle Challenger explodes, kills six astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe
  • 1996 — Unabomber Ted Kaczynski arrested; Sharon Lucid completes 180-day space voyage, a record for women and U.S. astronauts

Cultural issues

We all use hand gestures to say hello and goodbye, and add emphasis to our words. You may have to rethink your expressiveness when traveling abroad, however. For example:

  • Using the AOK sign is an insult in many Latin American countries.
  • Raising your palm to make a stop sign is considered, in Italy, a confrontational push; in West Africa it is considered worse than a middle finger.
  • Putting your hands in your pockets while talking is considered impolite in Indonesia, France and Japan.
  • Circling your forefinger next to your ear may means to you that someone in crazy, but in Argentina, it can also mean you have a phone call.

Elephant trivia

  • lives 50-70 years
  • gestation is 22 months
  • weighs 175-220 pounds at birth
  • feeds for about 18 hours a day
  • eats 300-plus pounds of vegetation daily
  • sleeps four hours a night, generally from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
  • holds ears out straight when happy
  • has 40,000 muscles in its trunk
  • can hold 3 gallons of water in trunk

Fun words

Funambulist (fyooh NAM byuh list) — a tightrope artist. Example: “I would make a great funambulist if I weren’t afraid of heights.”

Get the idea? Go have some fun!

*Image credit: © Copyright David Sands and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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