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Testing, testing, three, two, one.

I am curious—I was mentioning to my Perfect Non-Reader that the first day of the first Test of the Ashes was about to start, and she made a comment about the connection of a sports Test and a school test. So I, naturally, asked whether she thought the use in sports was older than the use in education, or veesy versey. And off we went to my OED. But it did not answer my question.

There is a reference to a cricket Test match in 1862, so that’s a line for that. But it seems to treat school tests as a unremarkable extension of any kind of testing anybody or anything for any reason, and doesn’t bother to give a quote for it. I suspect it is from the middle of the nineteenth-century some time, but I don’t really know. I suppose the next step is to search the newspaper archive. Hmph. I’m clearly not going to get an answer before the first ball.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Well, that was quick: Strauss out for naught on the third ball. This could be a long month.


Hmm. Exams have been around forever (Confucius, anyone?), but "test" as a synonym for "exam" in an academic setting--I dunno. (Apparently, testing high schoolers in the American public school system has been around since the 1800s.)

However, I'm obviously confused, because according to Wikipedia, "Test Cricket" is not a "test" of cricket, like a tournament or proving ground, but a particular form of cricket that is just nastily long. One refers to a Test Match or a Test Day, which are games played by the rules of Test cricket and by Test teams, but not a "test" itself without any modifiers. We don't have a special form of math called "Test math", y'know, that only shows up on test days for test math students--It's not the same usage of the word, though it is similar in some deep structure.

But I must say, I can only think of Hitchhiker's Guide whenever the Ashes are mentioned. (hee hee--I still chuckle remembering that part of the story.)

Well, and I think a Test Match in cricket or rugby is conceived of as the ultimate trial of which team reigns supreme; it is testing the teams in a way that a one-day or a friendly does not. And I can vouch that in current newspaper talk, at any rate, Test is in frequent use as shorthand for Test Match. One could say that the first Test Match of the Ashes has begun, or you could say it's the first Test.

The OED seems to suggest that 19th-century pupils would submit test papers before examinations—that is, to try to see if they were ready. But there wasn't a determination whether test match preceded test paper, nor when the shortened version came into use.

And it has taken me three Ashes, but by this time the Hitchhiker's bit is no longer the first thing I think of when I hear about them.


Language Log enjoys answering questions like this one.

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