“Zed”

From “In My Cult,” a song from the (American) band Jim’s Big Ego:

45 responses to ““Zed”

  1. Michael Young

    Not ‘Zee’? That’s interesting.
    A shift West, British influence?
    I’m British and a ‘zed’ man, but I can’t hear myself changing my pronunciation of “Zee Zee Top” in the near future.

    • My “mates” and I in Massachusetts routinely refer to that sublime Texas band as “Zed Zed.” But we’re one-offs ourselves. No way will Zed have any real legs in AmE.

  2. I just listened to NPR’s Robert Siegel interview Jim’s Big Ego vocalist Jim Infantino about this song. Infantino confessed that writing the song’s lyrics was a joint effort, so one wonders who among the band is an Anglophile. Along with the obvious “Zed”, there is also “Shaun of the Dead” and “we await the giant flying head” (a reference to the 1974 film Zardoz).
    I don’t see “Zed” coming into common use unless people use it to differentiate “C” and “Z” in the spoken word. Still, a fun little Britishism to toss around.

    • To further tie in the Zardoz reference, the lead character in that movie (played by Sean Connery) was actually named “Zed”.

  3. The “zed” seems to be convenient for the rhyme. I’ve never heard it in AmE.

    • The interesting thing is that the spoken “zed” and “zee” determines how words are pronounced. For example, the British say zeh-bra, like how Jason Scott Lee pronounced it in The Jungle Book (1994); meanwhile, howjsay.com pronounces the cipher as zeh-ro. We Americans just say zee-bra and zee-ro.
      Speaking of which, do Canadians pronounce it “zed”? I heard someone refer to Rush’s Neil Peart drum solo as “Y Y Zed drum solo”.

    • Using Zed just for the rhyme wouldn’t be unique.

      All Saints (Canadian/British band) single “Never Ever” had both “The alphabet runs right from A to Zee”, to rhyme with “me” in the previous line, and “The alphabet runs right from A to Zed” to rhyme with “head” in the previous line! So people aren’t even consistent over the length of one song!

  4. Like Marc says, it fits the rhyme, and also refers to the fact that Shaun of the Dead is a British film, and in it they routinely say “the Zed word”, referring to zombies.

  5. Reading reviews of latest “Men in Black” movie, I see that Rip Torn’s character was named “Agent Zed” (before he was killed off). I wonder if that was a takeoff on James Bond’s bosses being “called” letters of the alphabet.

    • That is possible, Ben.
      Although, Bond’s characters Q and M are named after their departments: Q for Quartermaster, who issues Bond his gadgets (expanded in films as research and development); and M for Military Intelligence, who briefs Bond on his assignments.
      Meanwhile, MIB agents take on on a new name to go with their new persona, which are coincidentally homophones of letters of the alphabet: Kay (K), Jay (J), Zed (Z, albeit the British pronounciation), Ecks (X, from the comics), and Elle (L, from the animated series).

  6. Michael Young

    My impression – I’m a native Londoner, so can’t speak for the whole of the country – is that while we used to say ‘zeh-bra, 30-40 years ago, we (that is, I) invariably say zee-bra now, and most certainly zee-ro, which has taken over completely from ‘nought’, except where someone’s trying to be clever (oops, we’re back to that word) referring to the first decade of this century as ‘the Noughties’.

    • Do you think it’s because of the proliferation of American productions in the media, or merely a trendy affectation, like how we started saying “shite” here in the US? Ricky Gervais, not that he’s representative of proper British speech, says “zee-bra” as well.
      I work with an young Indian physician who speaks British English – terminology, pronounciation and all. He even quotes from the Lancet!

      • Michael Young

        We all agree that language is a living entity and that it’s in a state of constant flux. English is the mongrel result of input over many centuries, from countless sources, often from the spread of British colonisation and political influence (long since waned) all over the World. The English language, its usage and its evolution is a huge subject, open to endless discussion, pleasant, sometimes erudite, often flippant and invariably inconclusive.
        One generation develops its own terms, phraseology, inversions (wicked for good), etc., to differentiate it from the language spoken by its parents. I’m not surprised to hear that an Indian physician speaks more correctly than an ‘oik’ in the street. He’s an intelligent person who’s studied it, probably to gain access to so much of the medical literature in which it is written.
        We’ve had American films, novels, TV, pop music, for many, many years and there is a non-stop flow of language in both directions between the Old and the New Worlds, at many levels
        Fall – the season – was in English usage over here several centuries ago. It was taken to North America where it flourished. Here it fell out of use over time, being replaced with Autumn. This is one of many examples that make the subject a fertile one for discussion.

    • English born and bred, and I’ve never heard any compatriot pronounce zero as anything but ‘zee-row’. Agree that nought has just about disappeared, but ‘oh’ seems to be the default when reading a list of numbers – e.g. telephone numbers.

      • Nicky Pants

        Good call on zero read as “oh” like the letter. Do you suppose the pronounciation “oh” is a truncation of “aught”, like when Prof. Harry Hill from The Music Man claimed to have “graduated from the Gary Conservatory of Music, gold medal class of aught-five”?
        Also, nought and aught sound alike, so while they may have crossed the pond together, nought fell out of fashion but aught remained in use. For instance, we still call 00 suture “double aught”.

      • Michael Young

        Interesting thought and possibility.

      • Neil Rashbrook

        Not forgetting double-oh seven, of course.

    • I’d disagree that ‘nought’ has died out. I’m Welsh and in my early 40s, and I use it frequently, mainly with decimals (0.5 = ‘nought point five’, 2.0 = ‘two point nought’, etc) where using ‘zero’ would sound slightly odd to my ears.

      The only context in which I’d say ‘zero’ would be when discussing temperature (eg ‘sub-zero’).

      • Good point.

        For decimals:
        I tend to use ‘nought point 5’ for decimals (e.g: 0.5),and interchangeably use ‘Zear-oh’ and ‘oh’ of ‘0’ in number sequences, in part due to the context and audience. Oddly often in the same sequence for telephone numbers, so i will start (0207) as the ‘oh’ part and the following part of 2193000 would use ‘tripple Zear-oh’, and for 1234 012 I would use ‘Zero One Two’
        Maybe I need help?

        For Letters:
        For Letters its “Zed”, as in ‘Zed’s Dead’, not ‘Zee’ unless its ‘Zee-Zee Top’. Zebra would be ‘Zeb-bra’ (opposed to Zee-brah’s)

        For other Nought’s:
        I on rarely would use ‘Nought’ for Nothing or Zero.
        Sometime use Now’t for nothing.

        British, Born, Bred from Northern stock, living in London.

        Chin chin…

      • Neil Rashbrook

        This is really a reply to ironbridge, who seems to have overlooked that the London area code is (020); the 7 is part of the local number.

    • I have never heard “zeero” in England, only “zearo”. And my impression is that “zebbra” is more common that “zeebra”.

      • In Canada it’s also always “zearo” never “zee-ro”. However in the states “zee-ro” seems common, as does “hee-ro” for “hero” instead of “hearo” especially in the South. As for Z, it’s always Zed in Canada. The extinct chain Zellers had a mascot called Zeddy. The only way I’d say “zee” would be in the alphabet song so it rhymes, and in products using “EZ” for “easy” so it makes sense. Ee-Zed Wrap would just be silly.

    • I still say zehbra – it’s not gone entirely. I drove over a zehbra crossing only today. But zero has always been zeero (when it’s not nought, nill, or oh).

  7. Michael Young

    ‘ro’ v ‘row’ ? ‘o’ v ‘oh’
    ‘ro’, as in ‘roro (Roll on roll off ferry)
    ‘row’ as in “Row the boat ashore, Michael”, not as in “they had a big row”.

  8. Michael Young

    Nil certainly in football scores, and there was a very successful play and film a few years ago, “Nil by mouth” (medical instruction re hospital patient care).

  9. Zed rather than zee always seemed a one of the few good ideas British English could contribute to Am E. Nought, zero (which is seen as more ‘continetal’ or European sounding), oh (losing popularity because letter and number sound the same) and nil are all alive in UK as is ‘nowt’ in the North of England. Aught is obsolete, except as ‘he aught to do it’ but in the North of England we say owt (from ought) meaning ‘anything’

    At High School, my English teacher came from Oklahoma (!?)and she used nought but pronounced it closer to ‘knot’ (but longer sounding), which baffled us to silence.

  10. Correction: aught (owt in N England) means anything, related to naught (nowt in N England), whereas ought means should. So, he ought to do it.

    There is also “summat”, meaning something.

    owt and nowt are often used together, as in “What are we doing tonight? Owt or nowt?” Owt here really meaning something, just to confuse.

  11. On “Zed”: do you know the delightful phrase “get some zeds”, which means to catch some sleep, from the common cartoon convention of a sleeping person having zzzzzz issuing in a speech bubble?

  12. “owt and nowt are often used together, as in “What are we doing tonight? Owt or nowt?” Owt here really meaning something, just to confuse.”

    I must say I think ‘owt’ or ‘aught’ actually means ‘anything’ rather than ‘something’. So the phrase means ‘what are we doing tonight – anything or nothing?’

    e.g. “Have you aught to say to me?” – very old-fashioned way of saying ‘have you got anything to say to me?’. Probably last in regular use at the start of the 19th century, by very old-fashioned people even then.

  13. How about “Zed’s Dead” in the film Pulp Fiction?

  14. Using “oh” for zero seems unlikely to be related to aught. Its just the pronunciation of the letter O, which a 0 looks like.

    I think Zed can justify its place in the world solely with the term “Zed Bed” – a folding bed that makes the shape of the letter Z. Where you can also catch some zeds…

  15. If the Americans didn’t say Zee then they would be unable to use the term EZ as in EZ off on highways etc.

  16. “aught” tried to make a comeback in the U.S., but never caught on. The only time I’ve heard it used is when a person is talking about a firearm (“My thirty-aught-six” from World War One, for example). Zero is always “zee-roh,” at least in my line of work, in order to differentiate from the letter “O.” People may say “oh” when they mean “zero,” but they will never say “zed” unless they are either trying to sound British/Canadian, or make fun of/pay homage to them. “Aught” is otherwise just “ought,” as in, “I ‘ought’ to go to bed,” but even then, I’d just say “should,” not “ought.”

  17. Shannon Ireland

    I’m Canadian-born, and we say “zed” — it’s something that marketing gurus have latched onto in recent years as distinctly “Canadian”, and has even been featured in a “I AM CANADIAN” beer ad for… you guessed it! …. Molson brand “Canadian” beer.

  18. Zed was also an unappealing (well, all of them were) character in the film Pulp Fiction. But perhaps that was so the line “Zed is dead” could be used.

  19. @Andrew- I hated “pulp fiction.” I do hope I’m not the only one. But I don’t think “Zed” is being used as a ‘noob’ in that movie.

  20. Pingback: Good On Us | Not One-Off Britishisms

  21. Just dropping in at this late date to note that no one has mentioned Peter Greenaway’s marvelous “zed and two noughts”. While I am here…I too have noticed myself using both ‘zero’ and ‘oh’ in a telephone number; sometimes for adjacent digits! I haven’t noticed how the Californias around me speak phone numbers. I shall pay more attention.

    I alway say ‘nought’ for the first digit of a decimal number (nought point …).

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