zee and zed

Now that the Term from Hell has finished, I'd like to get back to blogging on an at-least-weekly basis.  Toward(s) this end, I've stuck my cursor into the e-mailbox that holds the 'potential bloggables'. Since it's nearly midnight as I start this, I consider myself very lucky to have blindly picked one that I've mostly done before. [Editor's note: but since it was interrupted by a conversation about applying for primary school places for my daughter and some laundry, I'm still getting to bed after 2. Typical me, typical me, typical me.] Since I feel like it should have had its own post, I shall give it one.

So: BrE  zed versus AmE zee, for the last letter of the English alphabet.

The last time I talked about these was in my grumpy (but reasonably well-informed) reply to BBC News Magazine's (merrily uninformed) grumpfest "Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples". Here's their Number 46, followed by my reply:

46. I hear more and more people pronouncing the letter Z as "zee". Not happy about it! Ross, London
Fair enough, but why has zed come to us from zeta, but beta hasn't turned up in English as bed? (Because it's come from French and they did it that way. But still!) I have two zee-related suspicions: (1) Some BrE speakers prefer zee in the alphabet song because it rhymes better (tee-U-vee/double-u-eks-why-and-zee/now I know my ABCs/next time won't you play with me). (2) Fear of 'zee' is a major reason that Sesame Street is no longer broadcast in most of the UK. Both of those issues (not problems!) are discussed in this old post.
...which gives you a link to the time before that that I talked about it. And before that, I mentioned it in my zebra post. But there's more still to say about zee and zed.

Zed goes way back in English--the OED's first citations of it are from the 15th century. The OED's first example of zee, on the other hand, is from a 1677 spelling book published in England by Thomas Lye, a non-conformist minister.  Lye was born in Somerset and educated at Oxford, and was preaching and teaching school in London at the time of publication. Bill Cassell at his Canadian Word of the Day site mentions its competitors:
The letter has actually had eight or more names during its long sojourn at the bottom of the English alphabet: zad, zard, zed, zee, ezed, ezod, izod, izzard, uzzard. One of those names is zee, a dialect form last heard in England during the late seventeenth century. That name was brought to America by British immigrants, perhaps not on the Mayflower but very early indeed in American history.
Another English dialect form is izzard, from mid-eighteenth-century English, perhaps from French et zède meaning and z, or else from s hard. Or, as I believe but cannot prove, izzard is simply as an r-infix form of izod that arose in an English dialect where speakers liked to insert r-sounds into r-less word endings. In Scotland the letter’s name has been at various times in history ezod and izod. Even uzzard shows up as a legitimate name of the letter.
(I think we should be a little careful here. We don't have any citations of zee written in Britain since Lye's spelling book--but this does not mean it was last heard then. The names of letters are not often written out, and dialectal names of letters even less so, so goodness knows how long it might have [chiefly BrE] pottered on.)

So, zee is not originally AmE, but it came to be decisively AmE, with Noah Webster (whom we might call the architect of American spelling), specifying in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language "Z.‥ It is pronounced zee". 

Decisively American, but not always unanimously American, it seems, as the OED also gives this quotation:
1882    E. A. Freeman in Longman's Mag. I. 94   The name‥given to the last letter of the alphabet‥in New England is always zee; in the South it is zed.

So, dialectal variation for names of this letter has been found on both sides of the Atlantic. Many things conspire against the survival of such dialectal variations--for example compulsory education, formal education of teachers, the rise of the text(-)book (more likely to have the hyphen in BrE, no space/hyphen in AmE), and the spread of the "Alphabet Song" (first copyrighted in Boston, Massachusetts in 1835). I'd be interested to hear whether any of you (in the US or UK) still use dialectal versions that are out-of-step with your nation's standard.

One place where zed is used in the US is on (orig. AmE) ham radio--which is what got me started on this post in the first place. American Bill 'K1NS' wrote to me in September with this:
Amateur radio operators (hams) around the world have
been saying ZED instead of ZEE for as long as I have
been a ham, which is 54 years now. For example, my
old call sign used to be KAY 6 ZED AITCH ARR.

It is odd, but over my lifetime it has become a habit, and
I automatically say ZED when with hams, but never in
other circumstances.

But I must say that the newer generation of hams say
ZED less often. They are more likely to say ZED if
they are "DXers," that is hams who regularly make
international, long distance contacts as opposed to
local hams who mostly "ragchew" with their local
ham buddies.
So, some free ham-radio lingo with your alphabet info.  I cannot attest to the dialect-specificity of that!


  1. In the NATO phonetic alphabet, it's zulu. Maybe we should all just switch to that.

  2. Z notation, a formalism of French origin for specifying the semantics of computer programs, is called "zed notation" even by Americans.

  3. 'Zed' is also the name of a character in the Men in Black stories / movie!

  4. And you still hear "izzard" in India, especially among the older generation, and among people that have learnt English at school but aren't otherwise exposed to English movies/TV.

  5. The American military also uses zulu.

  6. now I know my ABCs/next time won't you play with me

    Irrelevant comment: As a child I learned the last line as "tell me what you think of me", and since then I have more often heard "next time won't you sing with me".

    More irrelevant comment: This song has the same, or essentially the same, tune as both "Bah, bah, black sheep" and "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". For a real good time, I recommend mashing the three songs together, for example:

    Bah bah black sheep
    How I wonder
    Three bags full.

    World so high
    One for the little boy
    Y and Z.

    Twinkle twinkle
    Have you any wool?
    Next time won't you
    What you are.

    Try to do it without looking at the words.

  7. Don't Newfoundland and Ireland use zee?

  8. I always find zee confusing because it easily messes up with cee. This is the only pair that comes to my mind where the pronunciation distinction between z and s is really essential. Using zed avoids this problem, of course.

  9. I always find zee confusing because it easily messes up with cee. This is the only pair that comes to my mind where the pronunciation distinction between z and s is really essential. Using zed avoids this problem, of course.

    Somehow people in the US don't seem to have problems distinguishing C from Z, even over the phone. It's not a problematic pair like M/N, which are often hard to tell apart.

    Do you have the same problems with B/P and D/T?

  10. Here in the UK I sang the alphabet song as a kid but didn't sing the last two lines, instead finishing with zed.
    I didn't even know the song had those two final lines until I was an adult.

  11. (AmE) Anon/VP- the pairing most problematic over the phone, in my experience is F/S thing. Having worked at a place called FantaCo for 8.5 years, and gotten mail for SantaCo, I can attest to that.
    C/Z is not a problem, in part because the cee is pronounced with a slight hissing sound, and the zee with a slight buzzing sound. I agree M/N might be a slight problem, tho em has a hum, and en doesn't. (These may not be linguistically correct terms, but I think you get the idea.)

  12. I think the two names reflect different functions of a letter name.Zee was invented a mnemonic referring to its sound. Zed was invented as a reference to its shape.

    In many European languages — but not in English — letter Z forms a pair with letter Y. Both were regarded as innovations in the Medieval Roman alphabet and both were regarded as Greek letters. Neither was widely used in writing Latin, and neither had a consistent sound value across the languages that did use one or both.

    Zeta is the shape of Z. The Greek value of zeta became z (apparently having been zd originally), and this is its value in English writing, but it other languages it may be θ, ts etc.

    Greek I is a name for upsilon based on a late value — we pronounce upsilon in Classic Greek words as some sort of U-sound. But there was a tradition of using upsilon for the sound in French tu etc, and letter-Y is used for a similar sound in writing various languages.

    The potential names we could have adopted in theory make two lists:

    Z: zet, zed, ezz, zay, zee
    Y: Greek I, yay, yee

    We chose two names from the Z list, but none from the Y list. The actual choice of name for Y is odd. It's based on the sound of Y as a vowel, despite the fact that Y was always taught as a vowel letter.

  13. Correction

    despite the fact that Y was always taught as a vowel letter

    Sorry! I meant it was taught as a consonant letter.

  14. @David Crosbie:

    Wikipedia claims, admittedly without citation, that the name "wye" for the letter Y derives from its being seen as a vertical combination of V (=U) and I, hence /u:i:/ -> /wi:/ (compression) -> /wai/ (great vowel shift).

    Whether true or not, this story has the virtue of accounting for the initial /w/, which is otherwise unexplained by your account that it's simply based on the sound of Y as a vowel.

    In any case, the name of Y is fairly unique (along with zee for Z) in not being derived from the corresponding French letter name via obvious phonological processes (the Great Vowel Shift, English /y/ -> /iu/ -> /ju:/, French lenition of affricates) : this accounts for ABCDFGHIKLMNOPQSTUVZ. In other letters the relationship is still clear, modulo vowel change in one language or the other (EJRX). Y is, I think, the only letter that has no apparent relationship to its French counterpart.

  15. A BrE-speaking friend was very confused when he moved to the NYC area - we have an EZ Pass system for toll collection (a microchip-thingy in a box affixed to one's windshield that debits your account when you go through a toll). For the longest time he didn't understand "E-Zed Pass" and what it was short for, then he heard someone say "Easy Pass" and got it!

  16. Like chris Perriman, I too sang the alphabet song ending in "zed" and without the two final lines - always confuses me when I'm singing along with it to my grandson!

    And before the EZ-pass, I had the same confusion when I read about La-Z-boy recliners..... (Especially as, when reading it like that, I automatically lengthen the vowel sound of "La" to mentally pronounce it "Lah" not "Lay"!).

    I am amused that our names for letters, in most dialects of English (and incidentally, do Americans call it "haitch"? I hate that - I was firmly brought up to call it "aitch", but "haitch" is now so widespread in BrE as to be almost normative), are so similar that we have to recourse to the NATO alphabet to avoid confusion. I have been required to learn it for work, but every so often a vital one slips my memory....

    1. It took me a minute to realize what you meant by 'haitch.' I'm American, and I've never heard 'h' pronounced 'haitch' before. So no :)

      P.S. The single quotation marks are on purpose, as well as the fact that it is outside the period. I know BrE uses double and single quotation marks differently and put them before punctuation - and that you call it a 'full stop.'

  17. vp

    The Wikipedia explanation looks very iffy.

    I've looked up Y in the OED, which states baldly
    The English name wy /waɪ/ is of obscure origin.

    However, there is some interesting stuff.

    1. One of the writers of the Ormulum manuscript — apparently Orm himself in c1200 — added an explanatory ƿı over the letter Ẏ in IESOUẎS.

    So Wikipedia is at least right about the name being pre-GVS.

    2. One of the Old French names was gui or ui.

    3. In a grammatical section of the Edda in c 1150 the name vi or ui is noted.

  18. Sorry! Because I know vp is very well informed, I didn't join the dots in my post about the name of letter Y. Rude of me in a public posting.

    The point is that the name was spelled VI a thousand years ago by a few writers in England, France and Iceland. And we know that the pronunciation was something like WEE because of the funny letter with a W-sound that an English monk used, and because Norman French had a W-sound where the rest of French had a GW-sound (think warrantee, guarantee). And Medieval English EE sounds developed into Modern IGH sounds — one of a set of changes calle 'the Great Vowel Shift'.

  19. I just started following your blog, and I am fascinated by it. I grew up and live in Michigan, US, and my speech is heavily impacted by the (so I'm told by out-of-staters) nasally vowels, rushed constants and clipped t's that makes us sound sort of Canadian as well as mid-western. But even having been to Europe myself, I wasn't aware of half the differences in our dialects!

    I've never heard "zed" in the alphabet song, but interestingly enough, I am familiar enough with it, specifically associated it with ham radio.
    I think the practicality of using "zee" to teach kids to read the sound of the letter triumphs over being distinct, as I've struggled with trying to explain to my younger siblings why w makes a "wuh" sound or h makes a "huh" sound.
    And to Mrs. Redbots - Americans most definitely say "aitch".

  20. As an American living in Canada for the past 3 years, I hear both zee and zed regularly. My only beef with zed is how out of place it is in the ABC song. I've taken to replacing 'me' as the last word of the song with 'Ned/Ted' as a joke when helping out at my daughters' preschool.

  21. Thanks for this. By coincidence I was pondering this because of hearing afresh (on one of those 500 songs of the last three decades shows) the All Saints song Never Ever and noticing that it both rhymes Z with "me" and with "head", which may be a veryvrarevexample of both in the same utterance.

  22. Few if any Americans say "haitch": the pronunciation is used by most Irish people and some Australians. This pronunciation is unhistorical: the pronunciation "aitch" is derived from Old French "ache" /atʃə/ by the Great Vowel Shift and the fall of final e. The Old French form comes from Vulgar Latin acca and older Latin aha, and ultimately from the Etruscan name. Indeed, most of the letter names are of Etruscan origin.

    As for zeta, it is from the Phoenician equivalent of the Hebrew zayin 'sword' (in Biblical Hebrew, but in Modern Hebrew normally 'penis').

  23. @John Cowan:

    The Etruscans seem to have been very unimaginative, then. Just appending /e/ to stops and prepending /e/ to the other consonants (HKQYZ being the forced exceptions to this pattern, I suppose).

  24. In a useful and amusing digression on the names and order of the letters of the alphabet in Anglo-Saxon England (in an article on syntactical glosses, Speculum 48 (1973): 443-475), Fred Robinson cites a 12th-century English manuscript (Stowe 57) that uses "zede" for Z three centuries earlier than the OED's first citation. As Robinson notes, the names in the Stowe list show French influence, but he also cites an Old Saxon source that has "z&da" (i.e. "zetda") for Z in the early 10th century! That would suggest borrowing from Greek directly or indirectly into the various medieval vernaculars.

    Interestingly, the name given for Y in the Stowe list is "fix", which Robinson says is Norman French.

  25. John Cowan

    Few if any Americans say "haitch": the pronunciation is used by most Irish people and some Australians.

    It used to be rare in Britain, but now it's rapidly becoming quite common.

  26. vp

    The Etruscans seem to have been very unimaginative, then. Just appending /e/ to stops and prepending /e/ to the other consonants

    That would bear out my principle of naming with reference to sound for the core groups
    • BDG, PTC — when, as you say, they were stops
    • F L M N R S X — the core continuants

    [The expected name of R (as used in other languages) is pronounceable by Scots but not by most English speakers.]

    The other consonant letters were rarer, so used
    • a different vowel sound — K Q
    • historic names for the shape — H Y Z

    That leaves only letters that were created later
    • variants of vowel letters — J V
    • new inventions — in the English alphabet only W

  27. @David Crosbie:

    Yes, although of course the Etruscans didn't have G, lacking as they did a contrast between /k/ and /g/. G was a later Latin addition when the Romans tried to make sense of the mess the Etruscans had left them with.

    We can blame the Etruscans for the the unnecessary profusion of four letters (CGKQ) in Latin for the velar stops. Had the Latins taken their alphabet directly from the Greeks, we would probably only have C (for /g/) and K (for /k/).

  28. From India.

    We say "zed", and used to end the "alphabet song" (though it wasn't called that) with some extended nonsensical lines that rhymed with zed:

    you vee double-u eks why zed /
    eks why zed, butter and bread /
    If you don't like it, better go to bed /
    Next Sunday morning come to me /
    I will teach you A B C.

    Also, we (in South India) were taught "hetch" rather than "aitch" (or "haitch"). I guess like many things in India it must be a holdover from some colonial-era British-school influence. (It could also just be an innovation to include the actual 'h' sound in its name, but I somehow doubt it.)

  29. Growing up in Canada, my Vancouver-born mom taught me the "ABC" song with a different melody for the last couple of lines, which wouldn't have required "Zed" to rhyme with "Vee" (and no "Now I know..." at the end). I always assumed she learned this variation from "Zed" sayers who didn't want to break a rhyme. Strangely, though, she herself used "Zee".

  30. My previous comment is approximate.

    Searching the internet for "if you don't like it better go to bed" suggests that the first line afteR "eks why zed" was "sugar on your bread" rather than "butter and bread" which I just made up... and indeed, "sugar on your bread" is what I remember it as too.

  31. [Sorry for leaving multiple posts. This is the last one I promise.]

    I just found out that the American alphabet song is different after "P": it goes

    ABCD EFG /
    QRS TUV /
    WX Y and Zee. /
    Now I know my ABCs/
    next time won't you play with me

    whereas the one we learnt in India went:

    ABCD EFG /
    UVW XYZed /
    XYZed, sugar on your bread /
    If you don't like it, better go to bed /
    Next Monday(?) morning, come to me /
    I will teach you A B C.

    (PS: Wrt ambarish's comment, I think that the izzard/ized you hear from some people in North India is related to Hindi speakers' i-prefixation for words beginning with 's' not followed by a vowel, as in "iskool" for "school".)

  32. I blogged about (h)aitch in 2006, so please see there for discussion ( and to add to it if you like).

  33. Of course the backwards alphabet rhymes OK whether you say zee or zed.

    ZYX WV

  34. Another alphabetical one for you: in (strong) Edinburgh dialect, the letter J is pronounced like eye, sty and tie.

    1. I thought that was Glaswegian. They also say Dezember. Off topic, I know; just another difference I have noticed.

  35. David Crosbie: We use the START vowel for the name of R rather than the TERM=NURSE vowel because of the partial change of TERM (but not FIR or NURSE) to START. This change was mostly reversed under the influence of the er spelling: we no longer say sarmon and sarvant and sartain, as people did in the 18th century when the merger was in full swing. But since the name of R has no spelling, its pronunciation was not reversed either.

    The change survives otherwise only in four groups of words:

    Words that changed early enough to be respelled, like farm and star (Middle English ferme, sterre)

    The words derby and clerk (but not so in North America, where these have NURSE, though the derived proper names Darby, Clark have START everywhere)

    The unique word sergeant and its archaic relatives serjeant-at-law, serjeanty

    Many proper names like Hertfordshire and Berkeley (again, not in North America).

  36. Oops, there's a fifth group: words that have acquired separate semantics or pragmatics in their changed and unchanged forms, like person/parson, vermin/varmint, university/varsity. Note also the separate names Berkeley and Barkley/Barclay.

    I should also have mentioned that the shift only took place when a consonant followed the TERM vowel.

  37. John Cowan

    Actually, I was thinking of the impossibility (for most of us) of saying ɛr. As a name, that is — not more generally.

    If history had allowed us to say ɜ:(r), it would still have been an exception to the pattern observed in other languages for F L M N R S X.

  38. I don't have trouble saying /ɛr/ in isolation, and I use it to disambiguate err from air, heir when necessary. It's analogous with /ɛrər/ for error. Saying /ɚ/ for err instead would, I think, just confuse people.

  39. @John Cowan:

    How then do you say "air"?

    Saying /ɚ/ for err instead would, I think, just confuse people.

    Perhaps: but not me, since it's how I would say it.

    I've always assumed that the "err" pronunciation with the vowel of SQUARE (rather than NURSE) is a back-formation from "error" which, for Mary-marry-merry mergers, rhymes with "bearer". But I think I remember you saying at some point that you distinguished Mary, marry and merry -- do I remember correctly? In which case I suppose this process must have become lexicalized.

  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

  41. Zed and Zee reminded me of "zero", which in my English youth I never heard (some one would have had to explain to me what it meant); but now it is the preferred name over the telephone. And I realized only recently that while several pairs of letters are easily confused on the phone, numbers never are. Is there some systematic reason for this?

    1. vp below identifies 5 and 9 as a potentially confused pair. My mother,s a (British) telephonist during (BrE?) The War, was taught to say 5 as 'fife' to prevent confusion with nine. Of course, microphones weren't anywhere near as good in those days so they could sound similar.

      Off topic: she was also taught to say a group of three numbers as eg 'fife double-fife', never 'double-fife fife' since the third fife might get missed, and never to say 'treble' ('triple' wouldn't have even been considered) which might be misheard as 'double'.

      Lily Tomlinson's Ernestine on 'Laugh In' used to say 'fi-yive'. I used to wonder whether that was just her being humorous or whether that was how US telephonists really pronounced it.

    2. Yes "fi-yive"(5) and "ny-ine"(9) were actually used by American telephone operators for clarification due to the limitations of the old carbon transmitters. (only slightly exaggerated on "Laugh In") My stepmother worked for Bell Telephone Co. (AT&T).

  42. I can't think what we would say in BrE when describing the action of sleeping as graphically portrayed in comic, cartoons ie. "ZZZZZZZ..." - is it "zees" or "zeds" like the phrase "he's catching some Zs"?

  43. I certainly think of it as "catching some zeds" but that is because I really do have serious trouble thinking of the letter as anything else but!

  44. @LBS:

    You don't say what ages your "English youth" encompassed, but I would be very surprised if the word "zero" were not used at least in math(s) classes.

    And I realized only recently that while several pairs of letters are easily confused on the phone, numbers never are. Is there some systematic reason for this?

    I think that "five" and "nine" are quite often confused on the phone. WIth this exception, the names of the numerals for 0-9 all contain quite distinct vowels, whichever variety of English you speak. This is purely a historical accident.

  45. John Cowan

    I can only say tʊˈwɜ:rɪz ˈhju:mən. If anybody sharing my accent (or one like it) said tʊ ʔˈɛrrr ʔɪz ˈhju:mən I would hear it as to air. Of course, if a Scots speaker said it, there would be no problem.

    I wonder how Scots name the letter R. Yes, I'm surrounded by them here in Edinburgh, but they don't go round constantly spelling out words. I must listen out.


    Having written that, I remembered this Billy Connolly song.

  46. "Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter!" (Shakespeare, King Lear)

  47. Amanda Hope:
    I think the practicality of using "zee" to teach kids to read the sound of the letter triumphs over being distinct, as I've struggled with trying to explain to my younger siblings why w makes a "wuh" sound or h makes a "huh" sound.
    And to Mrs. Redbots - Americans most definitely say "aitch".

    I'm puzzled. Both zee and zed start with the sound that the letter (normally) spells. So I don't see how zee is preferable as far as associating the sound with the letter name. (Note, I'm American; I say zee.)

  48. I just sang the alphabet, and pronounced it 'zed'. I've never used the word 'zee' or actually heard anyone say it, here in South Africa we taught 'zed' .

    Love the layout of your blog!

    Enjoyed reading your post and the comments, will def be back. :)

    Hope you had a great Festive season.

    Happy new year!


  49. 'ezed' is used in parts of Dublin, much to the amusement of most of the rest of the country (where it's mostly 'zed' with the occasional 'zee').

    H is 'haitch' and R is 'or' for the most part in Ireland.

  50. @vp: Don't Newfoundland and Ireland use zee?

    Not really, for Ireland at least. I use zed by default, although I suspect zee is less foreign to me than to Brits. I instinctively pronounce EZ-foo and La-Z-boy with zee rather than zed to make the rebus work. However, when I bought a ticket to see "Dogtown and Z-Boys" I was taken aback when the narrator pronounced Zee-Boys rather than Zed-Boys. (Of course I knew it was about Californians, so a moment's thought would have provided the appropriate pronunciation; the point being that "zed" is the pronunciation I don't need to think about.)

    I have always sung zee in the Alphabet Song; as a child, I segued straight from "wye and zee" to "ex wye zed / sugar on your bread ...". The discrepancy did not bother or confuse me.

  51. Those rising zzzzzzzs... my dear old dad always referred to 'having a little zizz' on the sofa at weekends.

  52. vp - five and nine are indeed confusing to me on the phone, especially when said by someone with a US Southern accent who is lazy with the final consonant - fah, nah

  53. vp: "Zero". I never heard the word in maths lessons (we always said "nought"). I think I first heard it as referring to temperature.

  54. @vp @Little Black Sambo
    Now you mention it I can't remember ever hearing/using "zero" in maths lessons when I was at school (70 - 80s) we'd use "nought" or "nothing" and the only time you'd hear/use "zero" was in unrelated-maths French classes "zéro"?

  55. vp: Err, heir, air are all normally SQUARE for me, but this is lexically specific: I keep Mary, merry, marry separate with SQUARE, DRESS, TRAP. Error, indeed, has DRESS.

    Story: A doctor once ordered that a bedridden patient be given an air-ring, an inflatable rubber doughnut-shaped device that helps prevent bedsores. Shortly thereafter, the patient found himself being pushed around the hospital grounds in a wheelchair!

    There are two standard ways of disambiguating five and nine. The older one is to say fife for the former; the modern one (associated with the ICAO phonetic alphabet "Alfa Bravo Charlie ...") is to say niner for the latter.

  56. My father said "urr" for "err", so I suppose that as a child I imagined that that was the correct, if uncommon, way to say it.

    As medical airers go, that outing sounds pretty benign. I thought you were going to say that air-ring was heard as earring. I also thought of the German Ehering (wedding ring).

  57. I don't have the most recent edition of John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary but I don't suppose err has changed all that much.

    JW gives
    ɜ: (rhymes with fur) for RP (relatively posh standard British)
    (rhymes with hair) for British but not RP
    [Other British accents with some sort of r sound in the word are not included]

    eᵊr and ɜʴ: for General American (I'll leave it to Americans to say what these rhyme with)

  58. Zed's dead, Baby.
    Zed's dead.

  59. Mrs Redboots - did you ever sleep on a Zed-bed? Of course that was a camp bed (BrE) that folded up into a Z-shape, but that name may contribute to the La-Z-Boy confusion (which I shared).

    I know an elderly preacher who was bemused that the most recent President Bush was apparently known as 'doo-bye-ah' (Dubya). He is very deaf so it took a while to explain....

  60. Maybe we should all just switch to the NATO phonetic alphabet ?

  61. @ Biochemist - yes indeed, we had a folding Zed Bed in my childhood. In fact, I think it is still stored in a corner of my father's dressing-room, but I could be wrong....

  62. Phil Collins sings "zee" in the Genesis song "Who Dunnit?" from their 1981 Abacab album. It's rather weird because Collins sings the song in an exaggerated Cockney accent and then uses "zee" just in order to rhyme some of the lyrics.

  63. David Crosbie: With hair and fur, to be sure.

  64. Zulu is used in american military as well!

  65. I've just deleted a comment with lots of information presented in an abusive way. So, commenter, if you'd like to try again without the put-downs and rudeness, I'd be happy to let it through the gates.

  66. In the military life we overcame this problem with code-words for each letter. And those codes are known and used NATO-wide. At least I thought so till I met a German officer spelling D as "Dolly", instead of "Delta". :-)

  67. Regarding shreevatsa's comment on the rhythms of the Alphabet Song, the BrE version I've always known goes like this:

    ABCD EFG /
    QRST UVW /
    X, Y, Zed!

    Note no attempt at all to rhyme the Z, you just sing the last three letters as a kind of emphatic staccato finale.

    1. My BrE version, from London late 1940s, was
      A B C D E F G
      H I J K LMNOP
      LMNOP Q R S T
      U V W X Y Zed

      The melody for the first two lines was repeated for the last two. The Z is sung on the tonic/root so resolution is achieved and no supplementary lines are needed. This is why (some) Brits just sing the bare alphabet, as shown. (Resolution means roughly that the melody sounds complete; a listener is not left hanging, expecting more.)

      The US version I've heard has a different melody for the two lines Q R S T U V / W X Y and Zee, a falling cadence from 5th to an unresolved 2nd, which is then resolved by singing fifth and sixth lines to the tune of the first two.

      What I find strange is that LBS (using his PC initialism) in India learned the song in the same way as I did but with four added lines. I assume those lines were sung to the melody of the US third to sixth lines. Mollymooly seems to have learned something similar in Ireland.

      Of course young schoolchildren aren't thrown by the failure of zed to rhyme with G, P, T. Firstly, they have no expectations when learning and will just absorb what is given to them, and secondly, they face so much illogical irregularity that zee/zed wouldn't even register as strange. Compare, for example, being taught to say the letter C in the early phonic readers' way of kuh (hard c), taught to sing it in the alphabet song as cee (soft c), and shown it in picture books exemplified by a cat (hard c) alongside a large letter C (soft c).

  68. B - bee
    C - cee
    D - dee
    G - gee
    P - pee
    T - tee
    V - vee
    Z - zed

    One of these things does not belong.

  69. Creative Painting

    One of these things does not belong.

    Only under two very restrictive conditions:

    1. You speak English.

    2. You're American.

    Outside that little box consider:

    B - bé
    C - sé
    D - dé
    G - gé
    P - pe
    T - té
    V - vé
    Z - zed

    B - bi
    C - chi
    D - di
    G - ji
    P - pi
    T - ti
    V - vi
    Z - zeta

    B - be
    C - the/se
    D - de
    G - ge
    P - pe
    T - te
    V - ve
    Z - theta/seta

    B - be
    C - tse
    D - de
    G - ye
    P - pe
    T - te
    V - vau
    W - ve
    Z - tsed

    B - bé
    C - tsé
    D - cé
    G - gé
    P - pé
    T - té
    V - ve
    Z - zet

    1. those spellings of "Z" don't follow the pattern either...

  70. My grandfather used to say things like "everything from Ay to Izzard." That was in Wayne County, Kentucky, right on the border with Tennessee and only about 70 miles west of Virginia.

  71. BrE, Scot, mid 60s. To me, err has the DRESS vowel. And I would pronounce the letter R like a rhotic pirate: aaarrrrrrr.

  72. In other languages using the Latin alphabet, the pronunciation of z is essentially consistent with British English, e.g. In German, it is pronounced "zet" and Italian, "zeta". It is the American pronunciation that is the novelty. Also, it is particularly illogical in English to pronounce z as "zee", as it sounds very similar to c, unlike "zed", which sounds like no other letter. There is Nothing wrong with having linguistic diversity across the whole Anglosphere- it has enriched English language; but this is a bad Americanism.

  73. the more consistent your ruleset is, the easier it is to learn, the harder it is to forget, the more intuitive it is, and the more your mind can make sense of it or use it to make sense of other things

    zed does not follow the spelling/pronunciation schema of any other letter. It is completely inconsistent, none of the other letters work like that. It should sound out of place, because it is. If it does not, you have been conditioned to accept it. Because it is inconsistent, its not about subjective bias, its about pattern recognition

    zed is worse than zee for the same reason that metric is better than imperial:consistency

    1. But it isn't, because it comes at the very end, so a nice emphatic finish: Double-you, ecks, why, zed! whereas double-you, ecks, why, zee doesn't work....

  74. BrE (Scot, 60+). Re-reading this post, I’m feeling very deprived: I never learned the alphabet song. I started primary school when I was five, with no kindergarten/nursery school/pre-school. I remember in that first year learning the Lord’s Prayer, and counting slowly from 1 to 100. I don’t rememember not knowing the alphabet, I just don’t remember learning it. Weird. But ir was always aitch and zed.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)