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April 29, 2011


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I can't resist the urge to advertise this, my 10-yr-old son's YouTube video on "The problem with z", complaining about what Nancy calls the "hip-hop z", inspired by Mighty Beanz, a collectible toy he's into...


Nancy, maybe you can give him a job one day.

As far as I know, Zwapp is meaningless in Dutch; I would assume that it's intended to evoke swap, zap, and app. The closest Dutch words to it that I'm aware of are zwak ('weak'), zwabber ('mop'), and wapperen ('to blow [in the wind, like a flag]'), but since I'm not actually a Dutch speaker, I have no idea to what extent Zwapp might actually call any of these to mind. The letter "w" in Dutch represents a labiodental approximant /ʋ/ that could be informally described as sounding like something halfway between /w/ and /v/; in English, I'd definitely pronounce the name with a /w/.

It rather reminds me of the word of the year of 3? years ago - zwaffelen, meaning to slap with a flacid penis. Seriously.

@Yods: Actually, that word was "swaffelen." It was the Dutch word of the year in 2008.

Reading this with a packet of Starbucks Tazo tea next to me, I suddenly wondered... why? When pronounced with a long a, it evokes "taser", and with a a short a, like "tassel", nothing tea-or even beverage-like about it. Look what you have wrought.

Hi Nancy,

I wonder if the current 'z' plural trend is less to do with hip hop culture and more to do with 'gamespeek' language trends like lolcats (http://icanhascheezburger.com/) where there is a) a tendency of pluralise almost all nouns and b) a consistent pattern of phonetically representative orthography by writing voiced 'z' forms in the appropriate environment.

By the way, I stumbled on your site through the link from The Economist and am now a happy RSScriber.

@Duchesse: Look for an upcoming post about the origin of Tazo. For now, I'll merely mention that "taza" is Spanish for "cup" and long-A "Tazo" suggests the French word for tea, "thé."

@Lauren: Gamespeek may play a role, but it's following the trend, not leading it. The R&B/hiphop group Boyz II Men was formed in 1989; the film "Boyz N the Hood" was released in 1991. In her book "Slam Dunks and No-Brainers," cultural critic Leslie Savan traces the use deliberate Z-misspellings back to the 1920s, when young people spelled "rats" as "rhatz." See my October 2006 post, "Oh Say, Can You Zee?", for more on this subject: http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2006/10/oh_say_can_you_.html

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