essay (n.)I love the history of the word "essay," its implications. Harper's recently published a list of "general subject questions" taken from the All Souls College examinations ("Often described as the hardest exam in the world, the test is given over two days in September to recent graduates of Oxford"). The questions included:
1590s, "short non-fiction literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from M.Fr. essai "trial, attempt, essay," from L.L. exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + agere (see act) apparently meaning here "to weigh." The suggestion is of unpolished writing.
"to put to proof, test the mettle of," late 15c., from M.Fr. essaier, from essai (see essay (n.)). This sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay. Meaning "to attempt" is from 1640s. Related: Essayed; essaying.
What is war good for?These could have easily been phrased as statements (China is overrated, Happiness cannot be measured, Nothing is sacred, etc.) and served equally well as prompts.Why should I tolerate?Is dark energy more interesting than dark matter?Has there ever been a period that was not an information age?Why does truthfulness matter?Is China overrated?What has happened to epic poetry?Is "women's writing" a distinct category?Can happiness be measured?What are the deprivations of affluence?Why is a leather jacket more acceptable than a fur coat?Isn't global warming preferable to global cooling?How many people should there be?Has morality made progress?Is nothing sacred?
Anyway, I left a comment to this effect (currently awaiting moderation), that the statements are not to be taken as facts, but perhaps that was counterproductive? Perhaps I should have let it be and seen what other reactions it provoked. Maybe Kate and Becca as moderators will wisely reject my comment.