BY JAN HAAG
ESSAYS + MUSIC
16 MEDITATIONS ON Z FOR THE 2001 POEMS
WITH THE HELP OF MY CENTURY DICTIONARY
The Zs are an odd collection of words. As
if they didn't really quite
belong. Belong to
what? As if Z words were not quite respectable.
Many sound as if they were just made
up. Made up of what? And
why? Pick zany
for a word, pick zygote. Quite a few --
if it can
be said there are quite a
few -- come from Greek zygo-, yoke.
Yoga, too, means yoke. See I zygo- in yoga
or yoga in zygo-? Even my
are not sure where Z is on the keyboard.
zygo-, in my dictionary, the first word
is zygodactyl, meaning a bird
with two pairs of
two toes each, one pair front, one pair
the better, no doubt, to grasp twigs, boughs,
branches, trunks -- to zygo- against gravity.
Zoophagous means: feeding on animals, carnivorous. It rings with
threat that the guards at the zoo
will chase you, fine you, possibly
incarcerate you, certainly
severely chastise you, shame you, make you
less than human, like an animal, hence a cannibal,
own, digesting the fingers and toes
of cats, pachyderms, perhaps even
zygodactyl birds, carnivorous cheetahs
-- a round robin of gastronomic feasting.
I thought the zircon was pale blue, but it
comes more from flame and
vermilion, and jargon.
A zircon is tetragonal crystals of silicate of
opaque or transparent, the latter, gems of reddish-brown
and reddish-orange, called jacinth and hyacinth.
Colorless, pale yellow
or smoky Ceylonese ones are known as jargon.
I cannot improve on this bare-rock description, including the
-cinth twins, straight from the book.
Zany shifted from primarily noun to primarily adjective in
fraction: from a zany, to just
being zany. Beginning as
Italian Giovanni, Gianni, zanni (which
is John or Jan), a clown
name became description. Thomas Hardy wrote
this zany sentence:
"What a zany an old chap must be
to light a
bonfire when there's no youngsters to
please." Except zany thee and me.
Trying to find out just a bit more, from
my Century Dictionary, about
Zoroaster/Zarathustra, I consult
its Biographical Names (one of the
glorious Supplements, probably
not in your dictionary) and find --
Thirty-three Z people. Thirty-three! My heart does a
Thus are great, next-projects born. Who could resist
thirty-three poems about thirty-three Z people. We, the royal
will begin our next project
with Zadkiel and finish with Zwingli.
And, since this
list comes from the thirties, if I don't
few -- ah! fleeting fame, fleeting history -- I
may add a modern or
post-modern or two
-- or three -- to appease the numerological icon,
eccentricity by which I choose to venerate my
birth-date and the thirty-three million Hindu Gods at large
-- which I try to discover, honor.
Ah ha! At last a real word hanging out
among the Zs, with meaning,
history, not just
a substitute, as if alphabeters had demanded one use
up a few Zs for animals, minerals and
plants: zebra, zebu, zingel,
zoril, zamia, zaffer, zaratite, zoisite,
zingiberaceous... but then I can't even
find a fourth plant. So my
perception was fallacious.
One spies zealot, zealotry and blushes.
"In zool., any of the individuals of a compound
what is a compound animal? Are
we dipping farther back in man's mythos
'30s? Does zoon mean griffin, centaur, unicorn? Puzzled,
I'm not sure if zool. refers to zoology or
perhaps a zoolite -- surely whatever lives only
within a zoarium. My
OED on loan, at home
there's no way to check farther.
*Collier's New Century Dictionary, 1936, p. 2248
My computer speller suggests alternatives, zillions of them, for
Z word from the first third of
the last Century. For zoon, it gives
soon, zoom, zoos, for zooaltry it gives me
salutary or sultry, for zoolite it gives me
solute or salute, for
zoarium it gives me
cerium. Ignorance or evolution? It, of course,
but my Century Dictionary does not.
Would you believe that zombie is missing, too? In
Random's small, '98
dictionary its sources is given
as voodoo. I race back in the Century
to see if voodoo made it in the
'30s. It is there. The
computer speller, too, knows
zombie(s). It does not, of course,
so many would become zombies, "corpse(s) supernaturally
the semblance of life"* by 2001.
*Random House Webster's Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 1998, p. 834
Monument in the desert, temple, stepped pyramid, public works
possibly that from which the Babylonian gardens
hung, possibly tower
from which languages divvied into mutual
incomprehensibility. It is
difficult for us to conceptualize
ziggurat, stupa, Borobodur, Angkor,
Teotihuacan: solid monuments, open steps,
corridors -- a weird way of
life, of worship.
Our highest towers in the West are office
We, pragmatic, use temple-architecture for banks.
Perhaps the most famous Z of them all, zero,
the naught, the ought,
the very essence of
nothingness, the origin of all measurement, a
hour, the time at which anything, everything, all
begins. It makes higher mathematics possible. We derived our
religion of World Trade from it, and half
the function of the
computer's brain. The Arabic cipher,
emptiness, Buddha's Nirvana, the Tao, Maya.
Well, we all know this one, a little old-fashioned
now, but still
used: defined, uncapitalized, in the
Century as: "[German,
'time-spirit.'] The spirit of the time."
And we all know what that
that no specific one is a part of, a
"drift of thought" montaged by the media,
gossip, fashion, a
coagulation that leaves the lives of
most in the world unmentioned,
Like the overlay of the media on the recent
end-of-February earthquake: their constant reinforcement of it as
disaster, frightening, terrible, when almost everyone I spoke with,
unhurt, called it "quite a ride," "amazing," even
Deviants, obviously, from the zeitgeist, pervesely willing to
with enjoyment while nature played her game --
a feeling unallowed by
the uniformizing "recorders of 'history'"
who see, propagate a knee-jerk zeitgeist.
Ooooooo, I thought zinc was just a plain old
metal, metallic element,
and I was, therefore, semi-avoiding
it. But watch its permutations:
zincate, zincic, zinciferous, zincify,
zinfication, zincite; also to
zinc, zincked or zinced,
zincking or zincing. (In the secret
substructure I've consistently
typed s for z -- my fingers not really
knowing where the z-key is.) Then we go on
into zinckenite, or
zinkenite named for
J. K. L. Zincken, who, though he got into
the language (rarely), didn't make the Biographical Names
Supplement of the Century. Interesting that. But this is
anticipating the forthcoming Z People. So onward we
zinckic, zinckiferous, zincky, zinco-, zincograph, zincography,
zincotype, zincous, zincy, ending with a female Gipsy:
Zingara from the Italian! Almost as great a ride
day-or-two-ago 6.8 earthquake.
P.S. The Computer Speller knows
almost none of
these magnificent Zs. Nor can it read but one
or write but single corrections at a time.
Talk about zincographic-like, acid-etched, linear thought!
Zonary (O beautiful word) simply refers one to zonal,
which, among its
definitions, houses: "in bot., noting
that view of a diatom in
which the zone
or suture of the valves is presented to
(cf. [confer] valval)," which takes us, unexpectedly,
to the Vs
-- a trip in itself (who'd
have thought there were so many of this
letter, when z, another late-comer, has
Here, there is a slight disagreement, id
specifically says "one valve" not "valves."
Hmmmm. Carelessness? A
casual or causal distinction? Maybe no
distinction at all, the actual
quotes are quite
diffrent: "in bot., the view of a diatom in
which the surface of one of the valves
is turned to the observer:
cf. zonal." Ah ha!
Back to Z's (zonarius') home again!
Here we are, already, at 16, the end of
commitment. Had I remained conscious that
we would arrive so quickly,
would I have spent
less time on charming nonsense and more time
philosophy? Or is nonsense philosophy? Maybe philosophy is
In any case, one sees the Z's
are a singular species, Eliter
(choosier) then Z, however,
is X. Vis-a-vis my two
they suggest there were a hellava lot more Xs
(in the Century) two-thirds of a century ago.
According to Random
House (paperback) '98, one might ask:
Why do we need Xs at all?
for Xerox and Xerxes and, Ah yes, xenophobia -- the
grows. Nonetheless, in the Century's Biographical Xs
(there are only
seven) it seems it was necessary
to neglect Xanthippe (wife of
even though within the alphabetical Xs it notes she
made it into the language (unflatteringly). Is this
chauvinism? Anti-feminism? Am I a Xantippe for
mentioning it? I can
see my alphabetical province
(zillah) growing, growing, beyond all
bounds, reason, multiplying exponentially,
for, as Roethke said:
"Words are everything else
in the world." Or was it Stevens? Now onto
biographicalizing the 33 Century Z people.
More of The 2001 Poems
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