What is General Knowledge
General knowledge is a term for a wide range of information, much like the phrase liberal arts. There is no singular definition for what general knowledge means, as it encompasses many different types of facts. The term “general knowledge” has been used to describe facts about geography, economics, history, science and more.
The word general has long held the meaning of “common” or “unspecialized”; but in recent years it has also taken on the connotation that this is something you should know “by default” because it’s not a specialized field of study. The Oxford Dictionary defines general as “common to all or most people; prevalent”. In the commonwealth, the phrase general knowledge is also used to describe the knowledge of facts and information which are considered necessary for a person’s well-rounded development. In this context general knowledge is seen as knowledge that a child should gain during their school years.
Usually it will contain instruction which will be beneficial, whether historical or personal.
General knowledge will often cover many areas including history, science, and arithmetic, as well as many other topics. It can be used to describe anything that is factual information that is generally accepted as important to know by most people. For example, one definition of general knowledge could be “a body of information or a number of bits of information on a particular subject”. Therefore, anything that is considered common knowledge can be referred to as general knowledge, though there are some qualifications to this. For example, the information that “cows produce milk”, while true and generally accepted, would not be considered general knowledge because it is specific. However, the fact that cows are mammals (which can be shown by examining a cow’s characteristics) would be considered general knowledge. The distinction between whether something is general or specific often depends on whether it’s taught in school or not.
General knowledge may also refer to very broad subjects such as history or music containing many smaller bits of factual information. However, because the word general is still used to describe anything common knowledge with a large number of subcategories, it can be difficult to define. In this case it can be more accurate to use the phrase “common thoughts”. Since general knowledge includes prevalent information and wide-scale opinions, it may naturally include numerous bits of information that are actually wrong. A good example would be a misconception regarding evolution. The statement “Anomalies in biology show that evolution cannot happen” would be generally accepted as fact but is actually false because there are numerous examples of anomalies which show evolution actually takes place. Another example would be the field of science, which may contain many different types of science, from geometry to chemistry to physics. Despite each field being unique, they can all still be considered general knowledge because they are all scientific and are generally well known.
In other instances, the term “general knowledge” may be used to describe a broad range of information that people can use in daily life or to describe information that people should know in order to function effectively in society. These examples are especially applicable when talking about the type of knowledge taught during school. One example of this is the definition from Wikipedia stating that “General knowledge may be thought of as encyclopedic or textbook-like knowledge rather than as a body of theoretical or applied science”. This means that general knowledge is simply basic information that is necessary to live life, such as knowing how to read and write. This is an example of a broad definition that might be appropriate to include in a school textbook about education or social studies.
The term “general knowledge,” as stated by the landmark reference book, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, may have been first used by Sir Thomas Browne: “All knowledge is either actual or general. Art and science are but names; curiosity is but a word; learning is but an adjunct to our being” (Religio Medici). Another possible originator of the term was Dr. Samuel Johnson, who defined it as “the common knowledge of mankind”. As the field of education grew and continues to grow, so does the content included in general knowledge textbooks. Life-skills, nonfiction, and fashion are becoming increasingly represented in textbooks, which is a sign that it has become more important as well.
In the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to General Knowledge”, author Pat Wakefield states that “general knowledge is not an all-encompassing term” and that “there is no such thing as general knowledge.” It can be said that general knowledge is restricted to factual information. However, in the aforementioned book, Wakefield claims that “it can be illustrated by an endless list of subjects”. This can be attributed to the fact that general knowledge is simply a phrase used to describe basic information and knowledge. It should also be noted that, in the aforementioned book, there are many subcategories of general knowledge.
As stated by Wikipedia, “general knowledge” is often used as a synonym for “cultural literacy” or “world knowledge.” These definitions are strikingly similar to another term: a “common culture.” All three terms have been used to describe what most people ideally should know. In this case, it is useful to think in terms of what someone can be expected to know within a particular context. In a different situation, one may be expected to know different information.
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