The Difference Between Zee and Zed

Album Cover: In Rainbows

"Words are a sawed-off shotgun."
Radiohead / Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Posted on October 28, 2006 9:00 PM in Miscellaneous
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

I had a reader write in tonight asking me if I could help shed some light on why Americans pronounce the last letter of the alphabet, Z, as "zee" while Canadians pronounce it as "zed." Well, I had no clue they even did this, but a quick Google search helped me uncover some interesting facts on the matter (if you can call information you find online facts these days). First off, The Canada Page reveals some Canadian myths, one of which involves the idea that Canadians speak Canadian:

The two official languages are English and French. Many Canadians can speak both and other languages. However aside from a few pronunciations (ie: Americans say "Z" as "zee" and Canadians say it as "Zed"), and spelling (Americans "color", Canadians "colour") the English between the two countries are identical.

Okay, so at first glance it appears that French is to blame. Believe it or not, that was my first guess before I ever asked Google for help. But, a little further investigation reveals that "zed" may actually go beyond just the French language. At a page titled simply "zee and zed," I found the following:

'Z' is called "zed" everywhere in the world, not only in English but also in French, German, and most other languages, except in the United States, where it is called "zee". Hence "zee" is an American shibboleth.

I'll leave figuring out what shibboleth means as an exercise for the reader.

Comments

Ian Clifton on October 30, 2006 at 8:05 AM:

I think this may be one of the many things Americans changed about the English language when they ditched the British. We changed a lot of spellings (such as the "color/colour" example and "center/centre"), but some pronunciations changed as well. The archaic pronunciation of Z was "izzard" and was still used in the early 1900's. I think the real culprit is the alphabet song though... just try it with "zed."

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Ryan on October 30, 2006 at 11:29 PM:

I never knew this wonderful tidbit of information. I certainly would have guesed that zed came from the french. Who knew that it was another anglicized word!

How long until this post is #1 on google for this topic?

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