Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Letter Z

Z is the twenty-sixth and last letter of the English alphabet. But how do you pronounce it?

Zee or Zed?

Zed is the name of the letter in Great Britain, India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and most other places on earth where English is used. But in America they call it zee.

Is one letter name correct and the other wrong? Let's investigate history, shall we :).

The nutshell story of zed? Zed entered Middle English from French representing a “ts” or “ds” sound, then came to represent the voiced sibilant in, for example, the word zoo. Because it entered French from Latin as zeta, it became z├Ęde in modern French, zeta in modern Spanish and Italian and zed in English.

The letter name zee, now American, was not invented in America. The letter has actually had eight or more names during its long sojourn at the bottom of the English alphabet: zad, zard, zed, zee, ezed, ezod, izod, izzard, uzzard. One of those names is zee, a dialect form last heard in England during the late seventeenth century. That name was brought to America by British immigrants, perhaps not on the Mayflower but very early indeed in American history.

In the first great dictionary of English in 1755 (there were other, lesser wordlists printed earlier), Dr. Johnson opined “Z . . . zed.

In 1828 Noah Webster, the mighty American wielder of word clout, guaranteed that zee would predominate in the United States. In Webster’s magisterial American Dictionary of the English Language he stated: “Z . . . It is pronounced zee.”

The Concise Oxford Companion states, “The modification of zed ... to zee appears to have been by analogy with bee, dee, vee, etc."

Lye’s New Spelling Book(1677) was the first to list “zee” as a correct pronunciation.

Does all this really matter? Not really, but it explains a few things. And I'm all about being informational about all things Canadian to my fellow America friends.

How about a Zed-28, eh?!

Tune in next week when we discuss the differences between re and er. (just kidding)



  1. Really? Zed? I think that goes along with people drawing a line through their sevens, too, doesn't it???

    Things that make you go "Hmmmm..."

  2. Definitely Zed here (Southern Ontario). Thanks for stopping by our blog!