Cursive script 'z' and capital 'Z'
- 1 Name and pronunciation
- 2 History
- 3 Variant and derived forms
- 4 Use in English
- 5 Use in other languages
- 6 Metalinguistic usage
- 7 Related letters and other similar characters
- 8 Computing codes
- 9 Other representations
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Name and pronunciation
In most dialects of English, the letter's name is 'zed' //, reflecting its derivation from the Greek zeta (this dates to Latin, which borrowed Y and Z from Greek, along with their names), but in American English, its name is 'zee' //, analogous to the names for B, C, D, etc., and deriving from a late 17th century English dialectal form.
Another English dialectal form is izzard //. It dates from the mid-18th century and probably derives from Occitan izèda or the French ézed, whose reconstructed Latin form would be *idzēta, perhaps a popular form with a prosthetic vowel.
Other languages spell the letter's name in a similar way: zeta in Italian, Spanish and Icelandic (no longer part of its alphabet but found in personal names), zäta in Swedish, zæt in Danish, zet in Dutch, Polish, Romanian and Czech, Zett in German (capitalised as noun), zett in Norwegian, zède in French, zê in Portuguese, and zét in Vietnamese. Several languages lacking /z/ as phoneme render it as /ts/~/dz/, e.g. zeta /tsetɑ/ or /tset/ in Finnish. In Standard Chinese pinyin the name of the letter Z is pronounced [tsɨ], although the English 'zed' and American English 'zee' have become very common.
The Greek form of Z was a close copy of the Phoenician zen (), and the Greek inscriptional form remained in this shape throughout ancient times. The Greeks called it zeta, a new name made in imitation of eta (η) and theta (θ).
In earlier Greek of Athens and Northwest Greece, the letter seems to have represented /dz/; in Attic, from the 4th century BC onwards, it seems to have stood for /zd/ and /dz/, and in fact there is no consensus concerning this issue. In other dialects, as Elean and Cretan, the symbol seems to have been used for sounds resembling the English voiced and voiceless th (IPA /ð/ and /θ/, respectively). In the common dialect (koine) that succeeded the older dialects, ζ became /z/, as it remains in modern Greek.
In the 1st century BC, Z was introduced again at the end of the Latin alphabet to accurately represent the sound of the Greek zeta. The letter Z appeared only in Greek words, and is the only letter besides Y that the Romans took directly from Greek, rather than from Etruscan.
Zeta was earlier transliterated as s at the beginning of words and ss in the middle of words, as in sōna for ζώνη "belt" and trapessita for τραπεζίτης "banker".
In Vulgar Latin orthography, Z seems to have represented the affricate /dʒ/ that was the reflex of Classical /j/ or /dj/, e.g., zanuariu for ianuariu "January", ziaconus for diaconus "deacon", or oze for hodie "today". Likewise, /di/ sometimes replaced /z/ in words like baptidiare for baptizare "to baptize". Eventually, it came to represent /ts/ or /dz/ instead, as gi came to be used for /dʒ/, the sounds they still have in Italian today. In other languages like Spanish, further evolution of the sound occurred.
Early English used S alone for both the unvoiced and the voiced sibilant. The Latin sound imported through French was new and was not written with Z but with G or I. The successive changes can be well seen in the double forms from the same original, jealous and zealous. Both of these come from a late Latin zelosus, derived from the imported Greek ζῆλος zêlos. The earlier form is jealous; its initial sound is the [dʒ] which developed to Modern French [ʒ]. John Wycliffe wrote the word as gelows or ielous.
Last letter of the alphabet
In earlier times, the English alphabets used by children terminated not with Z but with & or related typographic symbols.  In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to Z being followed by & when her character Jacob Storey says, "He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th' alphabet like; though ampusand would ha' done as well, for what he could see."
Variant and derived forms
A glyph variant of Z originating in the medieval Gothic minuscules and the Early Modern Blackletter typefaces is the "tailed z" (German geschwänztes Z, also Z mit Unterschlinge). In some Antiqua typefaces, this letter is present as a standalone letter or in ligatures. Combined with long s (ſ), it is the origin of the ß (Eszett) ligature in the German alphabet.
Z in an Antiqua typeface may be identical with the character representing 3 in other fonts.
A graphical variant of tailed Z is Ezh, as adopted into the International Phonetic Alphabet as the sign for the voiced postalveolar fricative. Tailed Z is to be distinguished from the similar insular G and yogh found in Old English, Irish, Middle English, etc.
Unicode assigns codepoints U+2128 ℨ black-letter capital z (HTML:
ℨ) and U+1D537 𝔷 fraktur small z (HTML:
𝔷) in the Letterlike Symbols and Mathematical alphanumeric symbols ranges respectively.
lowercase cursive z
Use in English
Z represents // in words like 'azure' or 'seizure'. More often, this sound appears as 'su' or 'si' in words such as 'measure', 'decision', etc. In all these words, // developed from earlier // by yod-coalescence.
Few words in the Basic English vocabulary begin with Z, though it occurs in words beginning with other letters. It is the most rarely used letter in written English. It is more common in American English than in British English, as with the endings '-ize'/'-ise' and '-ization'/'-isation', where the American spelling is derived from Greek and the British from French. 'Z' is more common in the Oxford variant of British English, as this variant prefers the more etymologically 'correct' '-ize' endings to '-ise' endings; '-yse' is preferred over '-yze' in Oxford spelling though, as it is closer to the original Greek roots of words like 'analyse'. One native Germanic English word that contains 'z', 'freeze' (past 'froze', participle 'frozen') came to be spelled that way by convention, even though it could have been spelled with 's' (as with 'choose', 'chose', 'chosen').
Z is used in writing to represent the act of sleeping (sometimes as 'zzz' or 'zzzz'). It is used because closed-mouth human snoring often sounds like the pronunciation of this letter.
Use in other languages
Z stands for a voiced alveolar or voiced dental sibilant /z/, in Albanian, Breton, Czech, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Slovak, and the International Phonetic Alphabet. It stands for /t͡s/ in Chinese pinyin, Danish, Finnish, and German. In Italian, it represents two phonemes, /t͡s/ and /d͡z/. Castilian Spanish uses the letter to represent /θ/ (as English 'th' in 'thing'), though in other dialects (Latin American, Andalusian) this sound has merged with /s/. In Portuguese, it stands for /z/ in most cases, but also for /s/ or /ʃ/ (depending on the regional variant) at the end of syllables.
The letter Z on its own represents /z/ in the Polish language. It is also used in four of the seven officially recognized digraphs: 'cz' (/t͡ʂ/), 'dz' (/d͡z/ or /t͡s/), 'rz' (/ʐ/ or /ʂ/, sometimes it represents a sequence /rz/) and 'sz' (/ʂ/); and is the most frequently used of the consonants in that language. (Other Slavic languages avoid digraphs and mark the corresponding phonemes with the háček (caron) accent: č, ď, ř, š; this system has its origin in Czech orthography of the Hussite period.) Two more Polish digraphs include Z with diacritical marks, as accent and dot: 'dź' (/d͡ʑ/ or /t͡ɕ/) and 'dż' (/d͡ʐ/ or /t͡ʂ/). Z can also appear alone with diacritical marks, namely ź or ż.
Related letters and other similar characters
- Ζ ζ : Greek letter Zeta
- U+0396 Ζ greek capital letter zeta (HTML:
Ζ), U+03B6 ζ greek small letter zeta (HTML:
- U+0396 Ζ greek capital letter zeta (HTML:
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER Z||LATIN SMALL LETTER Z|
|Numeric character reference||Z||Z||z||z|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- "Z", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "zee", op. cit.
- One early use of "zee": Lye, Thomas (1969) [2nd ed., London, 1677]. A new spelling book, 1677. Menston, (Yorks.) Scolar P. p. 24. LCCN 70407159. "Zee Za-cha-ry, Zion, zeal"
- Ti Alkire & Carol Rosen, Romance Languages: A Historical Introduction (Cambrdge: Cambridge UP, 2010), 61.
- "asset". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
- George Eliot: Adam Bede. Chapter XXI. online at Project Gutenberg
- English letter frequencies
- Media related to Z at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of Z at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of z at Wiktionary
- James Grout: Appius Claudius Caecus and the Letter Z, part of the Encyclopædia Romana