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A question from December 2011 asked What is the social context of "pizzazz"?. I'm curious about the word's etymology. I checked some reference books, but they showed very little agreement about the origin of the term, as the following extracts indicate.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981):

[Expressive.]

Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition (Simon & Schuster, 1983):

[probably echoic of exuberant cry]

Brewer's Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Phrase and Fable (1992):

US slang from the 1960s for flamboyant energy and style. Originally a show-business term, it is now applied to anyone or anything having glamour or flair. It is thought to derive from the sound of a racing car's engine.

R. L. Chapman and B. A. Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1995):

[origin unknown; perhaps echoically suggested by piss, ass, and piss and vinegar]

Encarta World English Dictionary, 1999):

[Mid-20thC. The origin of this word is uncertain, but it may have been an invention of Diana Vreeland who was a fashion editor for the publication Harper's Bazaar during the 1930s.]

The New Oxford American English Dictionary (2001):

—ORIGIN said to have been invented by Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar in the 1930s.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (2003):

[origin unknown] (1937)

A Google search turned up a few other interesting points. First, Google found a copy of Harper's Bazaar from 1937 (volume 71, part 1) that supposedly contains multiple instances of pizazz. Unfortunately, only one snippet shows text including the word, and the sentence in that instance is practically illegible except for the phrase "will put the pizazz into tramping and driving."

Second, Google finds a single, seemingly coincidental instance of pizazz from the October 1907 issue of Motor (The National Monthly Magazine of Motoring), in a jokey article by M. Worth Colwell called "The Motor Affairs of Pharoah—II":

And there was a tower which was like the tower of Babel, and upon it was written an inscription that said: 'What made the leaning Tower of Pizazz lean, whereas it was once fat?'

And third, in a snippet from a book called It's a Woman's Business (1976), Estelle Hamburger claims that the original source of the term wasn't Harper's Bazaar, but the Harvard Lampoon:

"Swing is Here to Sway," says Bamberger's in an ad of young swing dance dresses. "Pizzazz," a sizzling word first used in the Harvard Lampoon, spotted by Harper's Bazaar, is scooped up by Bonwit Teller in an ad of fashions with that extra bit

Can anyone shed further light on the source and etymology of pizzazz?

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3 Answers

OED has

Frequently attributed to D. Vreeland (1906–89), who became fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar in 1937, but compare [an NY Times quotation] (26 February), which cites the March issue of Harper's Bazaar (see below). The term is not found in issues of the Lampoon of that date.

1937 Harper's Bazaar Mar. 116 (heading) Pizazz, to quote the editor of the Harvard Lampoon, is an indefinable dynamic quality, the je ne sais quoi of function; as, for instance, adding Scotch puts the pizazz into a drink. Certain clothes have it, too...There's pizazz in this rust evening coat, swinging wide in back, jutting crazily over the shoulders.

... which does correspond to two of the sources you researched.

It's not unknown for OED to be trumped in its earliest citations, but it does appear to have been coined by Diana Vreeland.

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Thanks for the citation, Andrew. The odd thing about the Google/Ngram results for pizazz/pizzazz/pizzaz is that, aside from the one (now famous) issue of Harper's Bazaar that is seemingly peppered with pizazz, Google doesn't turn up a single additional occurrence from that magazine over the next 25 years. This is very much at odds with other examples of neologisms that I've researched, where a magazine, having once adopted an unusual or unheard-of term that is destined to become popular, resorts to it frequently in subsequent issues. –  Sven Yargs Mar 1 '13 at 22:47
    
Hmm, so N.Y. Times of 26 Feb 1937 quotes both magazines: Pizazz, to quote the Harvard Lampoon and Harpers Bazaar, is an indefinable dynamic quality. Certain clothes have it. There is pizazz in this navy sheer bolero suit spiked up with snappy print. It's not found in the Lampoon at that time, but the (earlier) March issue of Bazaar specifically quotes the Harvard Lampoon: Pizazz, to quote the editor of the Harvard Lampoon, is ...". The earliest recorded example in the Bazaar specifically attributes it to the Lampoon editor, that suggests Vreeland heard it from this editor. –  Hugo Mar 2 '13 at 7:52
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Some slightly different meanings of pizzazz have been found earlier than 1937.

The Grammarphobia Blog says:

The noun “pizzazz” (also spelled “pizazz” and “pazazz”) originated in the 1910s and originally meant an expert or an exemplar, according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. (This was news to me too!)

In the 1920s, the meaning evolved into style, glamour, or ostentation. By the 1930s, it was being used to mean energy or zest. I’d guess this is the meaning in the expression “full of pizzazz.”

The word’s etymology is unknown, though the Oxford English Dictionary says it’s frequently attributed to Diana Vreeland, the late fashion maven. (Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins is dubious about the Vreeland attribution.) ...

Although its origin is unknown, “pizzazz” has echoes in “razzle” (a spree or a good time) and “razzmatazz” (showy, high-class, or an exclamation of pleasure). I think people back then had a lot more energy than we do today.

And via the American Dialect Society Email Discussion List, Wordorigins.org has:

There is an earlier use of pizzazz, in a different sense. From the 7 December 1913 Mansfield [Ohio] News:

Brother Russell declared, bo, that his crowd had already framed it up with some of the big guys in the music world to put the kibosh on this line of junk, and that it was only a question of time before they would have such pieces as “When I Get You Alone Tonight” completely on the pizzazz.

What relation this musical slang usage has with the more modern one is uncertain.

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I used to hear from old-timers in the music business (they would have been born in the 1880's and 1890's) that pizazz was a corruption of "piece of ass" (said as "piece a ass" in the local idiom at the time). The word "jazz" was likewise said to have been derived from "ass" (it originally appeared as "jass"). I can't verify whether or not their assertions were correct or simple hearsay, as the old-timers in question are long dead, but there may be something to it.

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