Z is for…

Zero_by_kaykaykitWell, dear readers, I can’t believe we’re here, but there’s no denying it. Today will mark the final instalment of my Vocabulary Series. That’s right, we have reached the final letter of the alphabet, the letter Z.

It has been so much fun bringing you this series—I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have! I guess I’ll have to come up with something else to do now. Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas or suggestions for my next series.

If you are one of my regular readers, the reason I chose this first word will be pretty obvious. I’m confident that newer readers will get it soon.

Zombie (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in 1871. Has its origins in West Africa, where we find the Kikongo word zumbi, meaning fetish, and the Kimbundu word nzambi, meaning god. It was originally the name of a snake god, but came to describe a reanimated corpse in voodoo culture. Some suggest it may also come from a Creole version of the Spanish word sombra, meaning a shade or ghost. Its use to describe someone who is slow-witted is first seen in 1936.

Definition:    A corpse said to be revived by witchcraft; a reanimated corpse capable of movement, but not of rational thought, that feeds on human flesh; a dull, apathetic, unresponsive, or exceedingly tired person.

Example:   It seemed fitting that the zombie horde was obliterated by a rhumba of rattlesnakes.


I like the flexibility of this second word. It can be used to describe someone whose commitment to a cause is earnest and passionate, or someone whose passionate dedication to a cause goes far beyond the bounds of what most of us would consider normal.

Zeal (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in the late 1300s. Comes from the Old French zel (which is zèle in Modern French), which comes from the Late Latin zelus, meaning emulation or competition. Zelus comes from the Greek zelos, which could mean eager rivalry or emulation, but could also describe a noble passion or jealousy. Comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ya-, meaning to seek, request, or desire.

Interestingly, one of the words to describe a group of zebras happens to be zeal.

Definition:   Great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective.

Example:   Unsurprisingly, the zeal of zebras thundered across the savannah with zeal.


My final word choice is an interesting one, especially if you’re into math. But the real reason I chose this is because it also happens to be the name of Jack’s ghost dog in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Zero (noun)

Etymology:   First appears around 1600, meaning a figure that stands for naught in the Arabic notation, or the absence of all quantity. Could come from the French zéro or from the Italian zero, both of which come from the Medieval Latin zephirum. The Latin, in turn, comes from the Arabic word sifr, meaning cipher, which is a translation of the Sanskrit word sunya-m, meaning an empty place, desert, nothing. Its use as an adjective started around 1810, and its use to describe a worthless person is first recorded in 1813.

Definition:   No quantity or number; naught; nil; the figure 0.

Example:   By the time the float of zealous zombie crocodiles reached the shore, zero people remained on the beach.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Image credit: kaykaykit @ deviantART


6 thoughts on “Z is for…

  1. Thank you Suzanne,this was a wonderful series, they are so useful. How about a series on tenses, would it be too time consuming for you? You explained the alphabet series so nicely,I’m wondering about the tenses now.

  2. Zombie crocodiles are the worst. Also, I did not know “zeal” was the word for a group of zebras. Now I know!

    Maybe, since you did letters, you could do a series with numbers?

  3. Zero as a desert…what an appropriate origin! Have loved this series a lot. And now I want to go watch my copy of Nightmare Before Christmas…”I am the Pumpkin King!” 🙂 I’m sure any new series you write will be just as fun to read. Looking forward to it!

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