Zee vs. Zed. What gives?


One of the mysteries that has gripped my mind since a young age (ok, maybe not gripped, but I have grappled with its implications from time to time) is the pronunciation of the letter “z” in English. If you are from somewhere that draws historic links to the British Commonwealth, it is pronounced “zed.” Indeed, it is even pronounced that way in French. However, if you are American, “zee.”

Mispronunciation in a social setting can elicit scowls to stern rebukes. As someone who routinely interacts with people on both sides of the North American border, and lives in a French-speaking environment, I occasionally select the wrong pronunciation. Yes, I get easily confused.

Is the difference the result of some form of American rebellion against the monarchy? Is it an early version of the Freedom Fry, stabbing an accusing linguistic practice at the French? The Straight Dope offers an interesting insight into the pronunciation’s history from a decidedly American point of view.

I cannot hope to make a more enlightened argument or authoritative overview of the issue, so I will instead encourage you to try something outside of the box. What if “zed” was not the odd letter out, but rather the norm? What if any other letter whose last little bit ended in an “ee” sound ended in “ed?”

Give it a shot.

Ay, Bed, Ced, Ded, Ed (or Eed?), Ef, Ged (or Jed?), Aytch, Aye, Jay, Kay, El, Em, En, Oh, Ped, Cue, Ar, Es, Ted, Iu, Ved, Double Iu, Ex, Why, Zed.

It really doesn’t feel so lonely that way, does it?


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