Can You Define All of These Words That Start With Z?


By: Allison Lips

6 Min Quiz

Image: Ramune Golysenkiene/Moment Open/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Z is the twenty-sixth letter of the English alphabet. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, India and Australia, it is pronounced "zed." In the United States, the same letter is pronounced as "zee." The differences in pronunciation have different origins. Zed is derived from the Greek letter zeta, whereas zee is a continuation of how B, C and D are pronounced. The latter pronunciation originated in the late 17th century. 

As the last letter of the alphabet, Z may be the most underappreciated. It is one of the least used letters. Around 300 B.C., it was even removed from the alphabet because Roman censor Appius Claudius Caecus decided that the letter was archaic. 

Two hundred years later, Z rejoined the other 25 letters in English. Initially, it was only used in loanwords from Greek, but was eventually fully welcomed back into the language. However, it wasn't always the last letter. That honor goes to the &, which had its shape over 1,500 years before it was named ampersand.  

Are you a fan of the letter Z? Do you like learning new words? Is your vocabulary huge? Find out with this quiz! You may even acquire a few new words to bust out at your next game of Scrabble. 

If you're wearing a shirt with a "zigzag" design, what does it have?

Charlie Brown of "Peanuts" fame always wears a shirt with a black zigzag stripe. "Zigzag" entered the English language through French. Its first appearance was in the early 1700s.


When a chef puts "zest" into a dish, what are they adding?

In the late 1600s, English speakers adopted the word "zest" from French. Originally, it referred to the orange or lemon peels used for flavoring. By the early 1700s, "zest" evolved for non-culinary conversation to include anything that adds a pleasant quality.


If you're walking outside and feel a "zephyr," what have you experienced?

The word "zephyr" comes from the Greek god of the west wind, Zephyros. In 1611, William Shakespeare used the word in his play "Cymbeline."


If you're listening to "zydeco," what are you hearing?

Zydeco is a type of music popular in southern Louisiana. It combines French, Caribbean and blues influences. The word first appeared in the mid-1950s.


If you have reached the "zenith," where are you?

"Zenith" entered English from Arabic by way of Old French and Medieval Latin. English speakers adopted the word to mean the highest point in the sky above the observer. It can also mean, less literally, a culmination.


When someone refers to another person as a "zillionaire," what do they mean?

"Zillionaire" is a combination of millionaire and the made-up word "zillion." "Zillion" was created in the early 1900s to describe an indeterminately huge number. Other similar words have been invented, including "gazillion" and "squillion."


If someone is "zealous," how do they feel about someone or something?

In the 1520s, "zealous" entered the English language. It shares the Latin root "zelus" with "jealousy." In centuries past, the two words were closer in meaning than they are today. Jealousy and zealousness can both be taken to extremes.


What type of vegetable is a "zucchini"?

In 1925, "zucchini" made its first appearance in English. It is a plural form of the Italian word "zucchino," which is a diminutive of the zucca gourd. Another word for zucchini, especially in the U.K., is "courgette."


What type of dessert are you indulging in if you are eating a "zeppole"?

Zeppole, full name Zeppole di San Giuseppe, are made with choux pastry. They are often eaten to celebrate Saint Joseph's Day. The holiday is celebrated on March 19, to honor the husband of the Virgin Mary.


Your town may be split into "zones." What is a zone?

In the 15th century, "zone" specifically referred to one of the divisions of the Earth's surface, divided by latitude and temperature. The five zones are North Frigid Zone, North Temperate Zone, South Frigid Zone, South Temperate Zone and Torrid Zone.


If you're eating a bowl of "ziti," what are you eating?

In 1845, "ziti" entered English. Ziti is the plural of "zita," which means "young bride" or "maiden." Ziti is tubular pasta, larger than penne. Also, ziti is cut straight across, while penne is cut on the diagonal.


In order for a baby to form, a "zygote" must be created. What is a zygote?

In the late 1880s, zygote entered English. It is derived from the Greek "zygōtós," which means "to yoke or join together." All of this is related to the egg and sperm - or the birds and the bees.


A comedian who tells a "zinger" is doing what?

The word "zinger" entered English in the 1950s. It can also mean something that is meant to cause surprise. Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" says "bazinga" after he's told a zinger - or thinks he has.


When your algebra teacher mentioned "zero," what were they talking about?

Our "zero" comes from Arabic. Their word "sifr" also inspired our word "cipher." India was the first culture to consider zero to be a numeral, rather than a mere placeholder.


If someone is "zooming" down the highway, what are they doing?

"Zoom" also means to move with a loud hum. That usage started in the 1880s. Also, on your computer screen or with your camera lens, you can zoom in on something to see in greater detail.


Why would a British child consider "zed" important?

Americans would refer to this letter as "zee." The word "zed" comes from the Middle French "zede." It was first used in the 1200s.


If you "zap" something, what are you doing to it?

"Zap" is an Americanism that dates to the 1940s. It can also be used to indicate something occurred instantaneously or something was erased electronically. It's also one of those words that appears in superhero comics.


What branch of science is "zoology"?

In the mid-1600s, the word "zoology" was coined. It comes from the New Latin "zoologia." Although the word sounds like it should mean "the study of zoos," it's actually "the study of animals."


What type of aircraft is a "zeppelin"?

The word "Zeppelin" was first used in the late 1800s. It comes from the inventor's name, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Zeppelins were held aloft by gas cells - which, unfortunately, were highly flammable.


What type of creature is a "zombie"?

In 1819, "zombie" first appeared in English. It is of West African origin, but comes from the Haitian word "zombi." The first feature-length film about zombies, "White Zombie," was released in 1932.


When someone describes the "zeitgeist," what are they referring to?

In the middle of the 19th century, English first borrowed the term "zeitgeist." It is a combination of two German words: "Zeit" and "Geist." Zeit means "time," while Geist means "spirit."


Why might a chess player be upset about making a "zugzwang"?

In the early 1900s, the word entered English. It comes from the German word "Zug," which means "move," and "Zwang," which means "compulsion."


If a metalworker is "zincifying" something, what are they doing?

"Zincify" was first recorded in the late 1700s or early 1800s. It is simply a combination of the metal zinc and the suffix "-fy," which means "to make."


You may know your zodiac sign, but what does "zodiac" refer to?

"Zodiac" in its astrological sense entered English in the 14th century. It is derived from the Latin word "zodiacus" and literally means "circle of little animals." Libra, interestingly, is not an animal at all.


If you're completely "zonked," what are you?

"Zonked" entered English in the late 1940s. Originally, it meant stupefied by drugs or high. The word is often combined with "out," as in, "zonked out."


If something is "zooty," why does it stand out?

"Zooty" was first recorded in 1942. It refers to the style a zoot-suiter dressed in. A zoot suit consisted of a thigh-length jacket with wide padded shoulders and peg pants. If you're zooty, you're flashy.


What type of footwear is a "zori"?

"Zori" entered English in the 1800s. It refers specifically to a flat thonged sandal. The sandal is usually made with straw, cloth, leather or rubber.


What type of handheld instrument are "zills"?

"Zills" entered English in the mid-1960s. The word mostly likely comes from the Turkish word "zil," which means bell or cymbals. Belly dancers often use zills.


What type of ancient structure is a "ziggurat"?

A ziggurat is a Mesopotamian temple tower that is shaped like a square pyramid, with a shrine at the top. It comes from the Akkadian language, which had the word "ziqqurratu."


What does a "ziplock" bag have?

"Ziplock" became popular in the 1980s. It comes from the brand Ziploc, which was the first to trademark a plastic bag with this type of seal.


Why would you freak out if you found a "zit" on your face before prom?

The origin of the word "zit" is unknown. However, it entered English in the mid-1960s. Teenagers all over the world hate zits, of course.


What type of instrument is a "zither"?

A zither is a stringed instrument with 30 to 40 strings over a soundboard. It is played with a pick or the fingers. The word entered English in the mid-1800s. It comes from the Old High German word "zitara," which is derived from the Latin "cithara."


In which alphabet will you find the letter "zeta"?

Zeta is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet. In the 1820s, the name for the letter entered English. The Greek alphabet has 24 letters and seven vowels.


If you're reading a "zine," what are you looking at?

"Zine" is a shortening of fanzine. It entered English in 1965. The word specifically refers to a homemade publication devoted to a specialized subject matter, although some people use it to describe any magazine.


If something is "zany," what is it?

Originally, a "zany" was a background clown in a performance who comically mimicked the act of the main cast member. "Zany" entered English from Italian with this meaning in the 1500s.


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