The Z Cult & Phonosemantics

I personally think that Nietzsche and Zen wouldn’t be even half as popular as they are if they weren’t spelled with a “Z”.    Seriously, what is the draw of the “Z”?   Is it the shape or its sound? Phonosemantics states that the sounds actually have meaning. Wooooooo, yeah, right. But lots of folks believe this. Mantras are based on this and many poets swear by it.

Yeah, I am skeptical about phonosemantics but this Z phenomena points to something, don’t you think?  Maybe it is the shape of the letter — forget the sound.  Can you think of other “Z” things that probably got a little help from the letter?

Alert:  a reddit reader pointed out that maybe for this reason, we should spell “Atheism” as “Atheizm”  !!!


Filed under Linquistics, Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “The Z Cult & Phonosemantics

  1. NFQ

    A high school teacher of mine claimed that her top students always had last names at the beginning and end of the alphabet, because those are the students who “get noticed” — in attendance calls, at graduation, etc. You hear the first person called, and you remember the last person called, but in the middle you sort of zone out (and those middle people have more permission, therefore, to be mediocre).

  2. Adam

    First, those are the most random/awesome pictures I’ve ever seen in one blog post.

    Second, my daughter’s name is Zoa. I wonder what effect that will have on her…

  3. Z does have a special zing to it. It makes your mouth buzz and tingle. Your throat vibrates. Try it, Sabio, you can feel it. V tickles your lips. These letters have more than sound, more than shape, they also mouth feel.

    V and F have the same mouth form, but V gets the voice and vibration going. You CAN feel it.

    Z is voiced S. Same thing, vibration.

    I think there’s gotta be something to it. Why would every other pharmaceutical have at least one v, x, or z in its name?

    Xanax (red underline…is that how you spell it?), Zoloft, Viagra. Is it their connection to Roman Numerals??

    (As a total aside it really bugs me that the easiest letter—by far—to teach a kid new to letters is the letter X. Everyone gets it right away. It is, damn it all, the least useful letter to know. Doesn’t even have its own sound, borrowing either from both K and S /ks/ or Z.) We could get along very well indeed without the letter X, though Zanacks might not sell like Xanax.

  4. @ NFQ : The Z-zone. That is interesting.

    @ Adam : Thanks. “Zoa” — awesome ! (ooops, see, the Z-cult got me too)

    @ Jen : Ahhhh Ziggy. David had to use “Z” as a crutch until his brilliance had a wider market and then he dropped it. Satori!

    @ Dan Gurney :
    The feel of words matters much. The linking of these sensations and sound make them powerful tools of speech and poetry. But does the sound have inherent “meaning” — hmmmm? I think the same sounds have different feelings from language to language, culture to culture. Perhaps there is not “inherent” meaning, but there is the moment’s vibration which can not be ignored! I will post more on this later. What do you think about Mantras? (do a post on it, if you’d like — but then, you don’t usually embrace controversy on your side, do you?)

    I love the example of Z and X words for drugs but there are tons of “C”, “D” “A” and much more. We don’t want to put filters on when observing the data. BUT, I think Z, in English has associations that advertisers must capitalize on. And, as I said above, I wager that those associations differ from land to land for both the letter and the sound.

    What do you think?

  5. Hi, Sabio. I don’t “think” much about Mantras. I’ve experienced their ability to cast a spell over at least me, and, it appears, the groups of people who chant them with me. Getting a group of people breathing together and harmonizing their voices whether through singing songs or chanting Mantras has a way of bringing people together and out of their isolated ego states. I don’t know, maybe square dancing does, that too.

    I don’t see how any individual combo of sounds and letters has any more magic than some other combo. At least hocus pocus hasn’t done much for me.

    As for the drugs, A, C, and C (and F and B, for that matter) carry a lot of emotional baggage thanks to report cards. Z, well it’s the last word, the omega of our alphabet.

    Does sound have inherent meaning across cultures? You know way more languages than I. Do bees buzz in Urdu?

  6. Earnest

    I have seen an example the stimulatory power of Z being overdone. There is a hairstylist named Chaz Dean, who for a while went by the moniker of Chazzz on his haircare products. He is now back to plain Chaz. Apparently there is only so much pretentiousness that a given person can tolerate, even with the stimulation induced by saying his glorious fabricated name!

  7. Well, I’ll admit, I love the way Z sounds when it rolls off the tongue. Of course in other English speaking countries they call it ZED, which I find rather odd.

  8. @ Boz : Thanks for keeping us up on all things Auzzie. I never heard of that term “bogan” (see Urban dictionary). Fun article. Thanks

    @ Earnest : Great example

    @ Dan : I agree on mantras. No, bees don’t bzzz in different lands. Dogs in Japan say “wan” and in USA say “bark” or “ruff” or “woof”. When living abroad, that is one of the first eye openers — our intuitions of sound and gestures are arbitrary — they vary from group to group.

  9. JS Allen

    LOL, maybe that explains a tiny part of why I’m so dismissive of Zen and Nietzsche. Maybe I just assume the adherents are all named Zeke or Zane, with ridiculous nicknames like “Z-man”, hair spiked with hair product from Chazzz that makes them look like Taz, and driving an Iroc-Z. All kidding aside, I do find that certain uses of “Z” in product names tend to signal that they’re going for a particular demographic. Speaking of the use of the word “zed”, I’ve always liked the way that some say “nul” instead of “zero”.

  10. @ JS Allen
    That was funny!

    Another thought about “Z” — I think people like carrying around books on Zen and Nietzsche because they like the look of “Z” — even if they never knew Zoro!
    They are proud to show that they read a Z Book.

  11. @ JS Allen & NFQ :
    Thanx, JS, that is fantastic. How “coincidental” — see, it just shows that there is a Krishna guiding my blogging!
    And NFQ nailed it !!!

  12. Ha haa! Go on, admit it.
    You think it’s a cool name, really 🙂


  13. David

    I came across your blog looking for references on phonosemantics, and promptly got lost reading articles here unrelated to it. I’m sure to be back to, ahem, waste more time!

    Concerning phonosemantics, I know this is about two years late, but I wanted to add something.

    “Phonosemantics states that the sounds actually have meaning. Wooooooo, yeah, right. But lots of folks believe this.”

    Actually, there’s a respectable, peer-reviewed body of research on phonosemantics, particularly now that nearly every word in the major languages (and many of the minor ones) has been appropriated as “intellectual property”. Belief has nothing to do with it; profit often does. The founding work of phonosemantics is usually said to be Plato’s *Cratylus*. Google (academic or standard) is the place to start, of course.

    I myself stumbled into it years ago — lo! before the Internet — when I was writing songs. I started by compiling my own lists of rhymes and noticed that rhyming words often evoked similar feeling states independently of use in a song. From there, it was only a short fall into alliteration, consonance, and Progressive Metal. I was saved from a life of rock-and-ruin only by my allergy to Spandex.

    Incidentally, the Z Cult has only grown since your posting: the recent zombie craze, the “mockularity” of Zooey Deschanel, the recent Hip-Hop use of the z plural and re-spelling of *ass* as *azz* (!) (particularly *azz-whuppinz*), and probably several other thingz I’ve neglected.

    As an Esperantist, I have to admit my own involvement; its founder was Lazar Zamenhof. Indeed, I also enjoy zombie literature and movies, and Ms. Deschanel’s music and acting. Zounds!

    Thankz again!


  14. @ David :
    Thank you for stopping in. Comments are never too late on my blog. Everything is an open conversation and good fun for me.

    I am not sure I understand your point.
    I agree that in a given language sound can have lots feelings for people — however, when you leave that language, the same sound will have different feelings. It is not the sound that does it, but the long established associations of words and the grammar/phonetics of the language. Rhyme, for instance, is more important in some languages than in others.

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