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So I am giving a presentation to an American audience tomorrow, and I have rather cluelessly labeled some components on a Powerpoint slide using the alphabet. When I talk about "component Z", I want to say the right thing. It's too late in the night now to re-label with numbers. I grew up calling it "Zed", but noticed many Americans prefer "Zee"; I want to be correct, not herd-minded.

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I am done with the presentation. When i got to Component Z, I naturally slipped into saying "Zed" the first time I referred to the component, and quickly added - 'or "Zee"'. I got a few smiles and nods, but otherwise a stoic bunch! –  S Red Dec 9 '10 at 15:15
    
Also interesting, many Americans who are in the maths and sciences use /zi:/ in regular speech but /zɛd/ when reading the variable out loud. –  Steven Xu Dec 13 '10 at 2:50
    
Personally I'd go for "zed" in any case, since the /z/ sound is not in my native language I guess I could mess it up and pronounce it /sed/, and if i tried to say "zee" it could come out as /se:/ and sound like the letter "C" instead. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 15:54

5 Answers 5

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The letter 'Z' is called:

  • 'Zed' (/zɛd/) in British English and Commonwealth English (i.e., UK, Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, etc.)
    Note that this is also close to its name in several non-English languages: "zeta in Italian and in Spanish, zäta in Swedish, zet in Dutch, Polish, German, Romanian and Czech, zæt in Danish, zett in Norwegian, zède in French, and in Portuguese" (all names ultimately derived from the Greek letter zeta).

  • 'Zee' (/ziː/) in American English and Newfoundland English (parts of Canada)

  • 'Izzard' (/ˈɪzərd/) in Scottish English.

Now for which you should use in your case:

  • The US almost exclusively uses 'Zee'. This is how it's taught to children in schools, and the name they're familiar with. If you use 'Zed' in your presentation, you call attention (a little) to your non-US-ness. Whether this is good or bad is for you to decide.

  • On the other hand, if you use 'Zee' and the audience consists of a large number of non-Americans (which is possible at a university) or people who otherwise expect you to say 'Zed', some observant ones may notice that you chose to change your normal pronunciation. :-)

  • From experience, it is my impression that most Americans are either aware of the alternative pronunciation 'Zed' or (more likely) can understand what you mean from context. So the probability of actual confusion is small, I feel, though the probability of distraction may be high enough for you to choose 'Zee'.

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Well explained. –  mickeyf Dec 9 '10 at 14:50

If you are used to calling it "zed" then I recommend that you use that in your presentation. Remembering to call it "zee" is an unnecessary distraction that might even make you feel slightly uncomfortable, and you will no doubt be understood whatever you decide.

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@ShreevatsaR is correct.

In England and what is still, imo impoliticly referred to as the 'Commonwealth', the former being the birthplace and ancestral home of English, it is 'zed'.

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Neither is any more 'correct' than the other. It's the equivalent of debating which of color/colour is the correct spelling. As you're giving a presentation, I would worry most about just ensuring that you're clear and consistent.

Given an American audience, I would assume the following:

  • They will almost certainly use 'Zee' themselves. For the most part, the only Americans who use 'Zed' are those who've had significant exposure to a foreign presence or those that want to appear that they have.
  • Assuming they're even slightly educated or culturally exposed, they will completely understand you when you say Component Zed, particularly if you're speaking with a British accent to 'prime them for it' so to speak. In fact, you could also go with something less standard like Component Zulu (from the NATO phonetic alphabet) as long as you did it in context and consistently.

Based on this, I would recommend going with whatever you're most comfortable with (presumably 'Zed'). My worry would be that if you try to adapt on the fly to 'Zee' that you'll slip up at some point and start interleaving them which would be much less clear than simply referring to them as 'Zed' throughout.

Good luck!

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+1 - but... what if he were to use the British Forces phonetic alphabet? Component Zebra! OK, the NATO is now the most widely recognised form, but it's interesting to see the cultural variations: morsecode.scphillips.com/alphabet.html –  CJM Dec 9 '10 at 10:08
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@CJM - Yes, but should he pronounce it ZEBBRA or ZEEBRA ? –  MikeJ-UK Dec 9 '10 at 11:00
    
ZEBBRA of course! Er... I think ;) I've heard ZEEBRA plenty of times, but I can't recall a particular distinguishing demographic. Is there one? –  CJM Dec 9 '10 at 13:01
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@CJM - US = ZEEBRA, UK/Commonwealth = ZEBBRA, so we're back in the same boat on that one :P And I considered other Z's like Zeta, but decided just to keep it simple. Zebra was actually the US phonetic Z until the 50's or so I believe. –  Dusty Dec 9 '10 at 13:31
    
@Dusty: Colour is the correct spelling. ;-) –  Orbling Dec 9 '10 at 18:14

Sounds like you know the answer - if you're in the US, say Zee, if you're in the UK, say Zed. For other English-speaking countries, I don't know, though I'd hazard a guess that AUS/NZ say Zed, and Canada Zee.

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Most of Canada is "Zed", according to a Canadian friend –  Mike Woodhouse Dec 9 '10 at 10:24
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I'm Canadian and we say Zed. Well, most of us. Though I personally feel that it should be zee, to better fit in with the other letters "bee, cee, dee, eee, gee, pee, tee, vee", I remain steadfastly anti-American in this regard and say zed. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 9 '10 at 15:48
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@Mr. Shiny and New: We'll start saying "zee" when everyone starts saying "kee", "ree", etc. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Dec 9 '10 at 20:12
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The only Canadians who say "zee" are some Newfoundlanders and those young people who have spent too much time watching American television. On the other hand, we would say zeebra not zebbra. If you happen to be a Canadian talking to Americans there is no need for concern over them noticing you saying "zed"; they are too busy noticing your saying "aboot". –  Joel Brown Oct 13 '11 at 0:10

protected by tchrist Nov 26 '12 at 3:50

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