Thursday, December 10, 2015

Secret Origins: Z

Since it is the last month of the year, I thought it would be a good time to finally reveal the origins of the last letter of the (Latin) alphabet. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for…five years?! Seriously?!!!

Z’s use in English is because of Anglo French, where it represented the “ts” sound, which is pretty close to how we say Z today. If you look at the alphabet gif (which is making its last appearance here, I guess), you’ll see that Z is actually between F and H. That’s because in the Greek alphabet, Zeta comes in between Epsilon and Eta, which are the symbolic origins of E, F and H. Z probably got stuck at the end of the alphabet because the Romans used it for translating Greek words, so they just added it as an afterthought.

But let’s go back to the gif. Between the Greek and Latin versions, there was Etruscan, where the symbol for the “dz” sound actually looked more like an I despite both Greek (which came before it) and Latin (which came after it) using Z. Although if you look at Z’s in ancient English, some of them do look awfully I like. Maybe the Z symbol was influenced by S, which could have a Z sound. But that’s totally guessing on my part. For all I know, the two have nothing to do with each other.

Now, Etruscan took their symbol from Greek, where it was a Z, but in the most ancient version of the Greek alphabet, it was that I so I guess the switch happened somewhere in Greek history. And before Greek, there was Phoenician, which again, was I. The name of it was zayin, which meant, get this, weapon. That’s the earliest known meaning attributed to the symbol as before that in Proto Sinaitic, their Z looks like an equal sign and has no known meaning. Is it the same as that I? Why did they change from I to Z anyway? Did the Phoenicians come up with Z being a weapon on their own? And why?

Ha ha, like anyone actually knows.



  1. Z's not good for much else; maybe it should be a weapon.

  2. And why do the British pronounce it zed while we use zee?

  3. In Hebrew, zayin means weapon and is also the name of a letter (7th in the alphabetic order), the symbol for which looks kind of like a tomahawk.

  4. Canadians pronounce it as zed as well.


Please validate me.