Saturday, January 7, 2012

I Am Living on Channel Z

Today, some overdue attention for the ass end of the alphabet. If you love the Queen of England, you call it zed. And if you love TV instead, you call it zee. Why the hell is that, anyway? Especially when every other letter has the same name regardless of which country you’re reciting the alphabet in? Before I attempt an answer, I’ll confuse the matter further.

Words of the week!
izzard (IZ-urd) — noun: a Scottish name for the letter “Z.” 
izod (EYE-zod) — noun: an obsolete name for the letter “Z.”
I picked this pair for the weekly weird word post because of the many old or obscure names for “Z,”, these would be the most familiar to English-speakers — izzard as a result of the comedian Eddie Izzard and izod as a result of the clothing brand. (The latter takes its name from British tailor Jack Izod, who sold an American businessman the rights to his brand in 1938. Funny how Messers. Izzard and Izod have the same last name, in a sense.) According to a handy post on Separated by a Common Language, which examines the difference between American and British English, Americans have zee and Britons have zed as a result of Noah Webster — who specified in his dictionary that Americans should use zee and not zed — and the spread of “The Alphabet Song,” an American-penned ditty whose end rhymes don’t work as well if you use zed. However, zee isn’t an American creation and was documented as having been used in certain regions of England before the American Revolution.

You could argue in favor of either zee or zed, I guess. The former rhymes with a majority of the other letters, while zed better reflects its origins: the Greek zeta. But rather than looking so closely as these two winners in the race to the back of the alphabet, I’m more curious as to why the letter “Z” has had so many different names. The Separated post alone lists zad, zard, ezed, ezod and uzzard in addition to izzard and izod. They’re not all that different, of course, and in fact, Canadian word blogger Bill Cassell says those last two could be the same, more or less. Izzard may have come from the French et zed, (“and ‘z,’” like you’d say upon reaching the end of the alphabet), or just “s” hard (which is what a “z” sounds like) or maybe even just izod with an “r” jammed into to it, as the British are sometimes wont to do.

Now I’m wondering why the other names for other English letters aren’t so complicated. If this page is any indication, “Z” is the only one with such a severe identity crisis.

Hey, but speaking of Izod, how disturbing is this mannequin?

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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