Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zed or Zee


The Toronto Globe and Mail has this article of interest:

THE QUESTION: Why, asked Wayne McNulty of Wellington, Ont., do the English (and most Canadians) pronounce the last letter of the alphabet "zed" while the Americans pronounce it "zee"?
THE ANSWER: "The Roman alphabet is a descendant of the Greek alphabet, where zeta is the sixth letter," writes Henry Rogers, professor emeritus of the department of linguistics at the University of Toronto. "Since Latin had no Z sound, the Romans discarded zeta."
He says they also discarded the Greek names for the letters alpha, beta etc., and used names that turn up in modern English as something like eh, bee, cee etc. In time, however, the Romans became enamoured of all things Greek and borrowed many Greek words.

"Eventually, they thought that a letter for the Z sound would be useful for writing these borrowed words, so they resurrected zeta but they stuck it at the end of the alphabet and kept the Greek name."
Over time, he says, the name zeta turned into modern English "zed."
In the early 19th century, he says, American lexicographer Noah Webster published a dictionary of English reflecting a number of his personal quirks and preferences. For instance, he preferred spellings such as "color" and "center."
"He also felt that pronunciation of 'zed' should be regularized to 'zee' to agree with the names of other letters such as bee, cee, dee. Webster's dictionary was influential in early American schools, and many of his spellings and preferences became standard there. 'Zee' clearly won the day in the United States."
The rest of the English-speaking world, including Canada, kept the older "zed."
However, he says, through the expansion of U.S. culture, "zee" is spreading outside the United States.

4 comments:

Yvonne said...

that is SO interesting! its amazing how one guy could just 'decide' to change a few words in a language, and have an entire country just blindly follow his 'preference'. Seems weird!

I should try that. I just have to find a word that bugs me!!

'JoAnn's-D-Eyes'NL said...

this is very interesting to me too,

we just returned from the "ZEE" in Portugal , come and see/watch the Zee (sea) with me...

Show me some pic's of you too please? I like that:)

Jennifer said...

I love hearing about things like that. Thank you for bringing a little more knowledge into my life.

Lynne said...

One's of Alyssa's favorite songs is the "ABC" song and I prefer to sing the song the American way but sometimes I sing it with a "Zed" at the end. It just doesn't rhyme. Kids don't care though.