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):


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 (1939), Estelle Hamburger claims that the original source of the term wasn't Harper's Bazaar, but the Harvard Lampoon [combined snippets]:

"Pizazz," 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 of something, "the scotch in the soda — Pizazz!"

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

8 Answers 8


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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 7:52

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.


From the Gaelic "píosa theas" (pronounced "peesa hass"), brought to America by the Irish immigration of the 19th century, and meaning "a bit of heat, excitement, or passion." Source: How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroad (2007), by Daniel Cassidy. The Americanized "pizzazz" became especially popularized in the New York City area, which is where Ms. Vreeland probably picked it up. She didn't invent it.

  • Others disagree, though I can at least say that ambitious etymology can be fun.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 22:33
  • The link in choster’s comment is correct: Píosa theas means ‘a southern piece’. It does not in any way mean “a bit of heat, excitement, or passion”. Píosa is masculine, and as such any following noun adjunct (a noun in the genitive being used with adjectival force) would not be lenited; and the genitive of teas (3rd declension masculine noun) is teasa, not teas. Cassidy’s knowledge of Irish is complete rubbish. Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 10:16

I've done a bit of follow-up research on this question and offer the following notes, mostly involving pre-1937 instances of pizzazz (and related spellings).

The oldest of the 'Pizzazzes'

The earliest instance I've been able to find of pizzazz is, oddly enough, in the form of an invented proper name. From "At the Theaters," in the St. Paul [Minnesota] Globe (January 17, 1898):

It is a fair assumption that the majority of the people who assembled at the Grand last night expected to see somebody besides [Henry] Dixey. They looked for a vaudeville entertainment with Dixey as the star. Not a vaudevill-ain made his appearance. Two petite and shapely young women and two active and enthusiastic colored boys constituted Mr. Dixey's only visible assistants. One of the colored boys, whom Dixey has christened "Pizzazzes," borrowed the rings, watches and handkerchiefs from the audience, and the shapely young women in page costumes adorned the stage in the first part, and obediently and mysteriously vanished in mid-air upon subsequent occasions.

This occurrence of "Pizzazzes" is such an outlier and is so idiosyncratic that I doubt its relevance to modern-day pizzazz. It’s harder to reach the same conclusion with regard to the phrase "on the pizzazz [or pazazz]," from the 1900s and 1910s, however.

Sightings of 'on the pazazz'

In his answer, Hugo notes an instance of “on the pizzazz” from 1913 in the Mansfield [Ohio] News cited by WordOrigins.com. That instance is actually is actually from almost a year earlier, in an article on slang that merits reproduction of a more extensive excerpt. From "Nix on the Rough Stuff," in the Omaha [Nebraska] Daily Bee (December 29, 1912, citing as its source the Chicago Journal):

Nix on the Rough Stuff

Chicago's Clean Language League Throws the Kibosh Into Low-Brow Lingo

The Clean Language league of America, which is plum nuts about being dead set against slang, cuss words, risque stories, purple ragtime and wriggly cabaret shindigs—not because it cares a whoop, but because such things always sound like heck to strangers—held a wild-eyed jamboree in Chicago and cooked up plans for a grand hallelujah campaign to induce everybody to climb into the pure-words wagon and swear off on throwing the low-brow lingo. Quite a considerable bunch of language bugs took the splurge and the enthusiasm was all to the velvet.

According to the dope that was passed out today by one of the high moguls, Tommy Russell, the main doings tonight was to pick out a publicity gang which will have the job of throwing this line of bull into every state in the union, being particularly strong on the schools and colleges, and not passing up the educational hangouts for skirts. The sideshow of the movement ill be to go after the kind of music that you hear in the all-night dumps and at public hog-rassles. 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.

This turns out not to be an isolated instance, although other early matches use a different spelling of the word (pazazz). One of these other matches is from Frank L. Chance (the Chance who played first base for the Chicago Cubs and figures in the old-time baseball saying, "Tinker to Evans to Chance"), The Bride and the Pennant (1910), as the star pitcher for the University of Chicago discusses with his roommate Tubby Bentley the repercussions of his having flunked some crucial exams at school:

"Tubs, I am not going to go back home and tell the pater I've flunked," he exclaimed. "I am not going to tell the mater her little boy is on the pazazz. I am not going to confront Lucile and tell her I fanned in the pinch. ..."

Here it seems that pazazz is not at all a good thing, though what it means precisely is not clear.

A second instance appears in the Lawrenceville [New Jersey] Literary Magazine: Centennial Alumni Number (1910) [combined snippets, date confirmed at Hathi Trust]:

I had a terrible time trying to decide how to spend the evening. There were two musical comedies and an Ibsen play at the theatres in the village and the Swiss Bell Ringers were at the Conference. I had seen the shows at the Hullfish and the Applegate, and the Ibsen play, over the post office, didn't have any chorus. So three of us decided to go to Conference and put the ding-ding exhibition on the pazazz.

The sense of on the pazazz in these instances seems to be something like "on the down and out" or "on hard times"; unfortunately, the phrase doesn’t seem to have had much staying power. The only other instance of that phrase that a Google Books search finds is from the San Francisco Daily Times, volume 17, page 26 (1908); but regrettably, no preview is available for that item.

The Library of Congress's Chronicling America newspaper database, however, finds several additional instances from the period 1908–1913. From "Red Ear of Corn for Him" in the New York Sun (May 10, 1908):

"Got a punk dose [rotten bit of luck] out in Seattle once," said a sheet writer. "I was on the pazazz so bad that time that the eats looked as unreal as circus posters to me."

From "Wooden Leg Swings in New Crime Wave: Store-Made Limbs Used as Offensive Weapons by Restive Cripples," in the [New York] Evening World (August 5, 1908):

Yesterday Mr. Charles Williams, whose home is under his sweatband and who has one regular leg and one proprietary leg, but whose appetite is just as good as any man's who has a full outfit of legs, got piqued because they wouldn't trust him for a measly little 2-cent stamp down at the Wall street branch post-office and took the prop. leg in hand and just naturally put the whole place on the scrambled pazazz.

From "Proclamation: Know All Men by These Presents" in the Spokane [Washington] Press (September 9, 1909):

WHEREAS, the people of Spokane are approaching that season of the year when wind whistles through the brush and the furnace begs for food; and,

WHEREAS, Hay lids and straw roofs [straw boater hats] are beginning to look like last year's birdsnests, not to say what is technically known among good dressers as being "on the pazazz"; and, ...

There is also one instance from this period where pazazz appears without the prefacing words "on the," though the story that uses it is so farcical and jargony that the word might as well be meaningless gibberish. From Irvin Cobb, "The Hotel Clerk Expatiates on the Chin Whisker," in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (May 23, 1909):

"But what Cip got wasn't a whiff to what they handed poor Ab over in Turkey. He certainly had the allah pazazz passed to him.

The emergence of ‘pizazz’ in 1937

As I note in my original question, and as Andrew Leach corroborates in his answer, pizazz in the sense of "flash" or "wow factor” burst on the scene in 1937, through the combined efforts of the Harvard Lampoon and Harper’s Bazaar (more specifically, Diane Vreeland). Some reference works assert, however, that Vreeland didn’t say "pizazz" at all, but "bizzazz. " From Stephen Silverman, Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies (1996) [combined snippets]:

During the period Leonard Gershe was still conceiving of his story as a stage musical, the role model for his magazine editor was Vivienne Segal, Gene Kelly's costar in Pal Joey, "because," said the writer, "I was crazy about Vivienne Segal, also her timing." As he began to research the world of fashion journalism, however, a young editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Didi Dixon, set him off on a different course. "She worked with the editor in chief, Diana Vreeland," said Gershe, "and Didi would feed me expressions and things that Vreeland said, words like 'bizzazz.' "

Bizzazz? As Gershe explained, "The word 'pizzazz' actually came from Funny Face. It was 'bizzazz' in the picture. I did not invent that word. Diana Vreeland invented it, and the movie popularized it. For want of a better word, she would look at a layout and say, 'No, no, no, it has no bizzazz.' And I used the word in the picture. Somebody a couple of years later made a mistake and spelled it 'pizzazz,' which is much better. The hardness of the p makes it more effective. Vreeland and I once talked about that, and she said, 'Yes, I wish I had said 'pizzazz.'"

Gershe’s account of the origin of pizzazz appears subsequently in Ty Burr, The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time (1999); in Harry Haun, The Cinematic Century: An Intimate Diary of America's Affair with the Movies (2000); in Marie Brenner, Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women (2000), and Kay Thompson, Eloise: The Absolutely Essential 60th Anniversary Edition (2015).

The trouble with this account is that pizazz appears in the March 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, whereas Funny Face (and Pal Joey) came out in 1957. And by 1939, other sources were using pizazz, as I noted in my original question. This is not to say that Gershe is wrong in claiming that Vreeland pronounced the word "bizzazz"—but the timing of the spelling mistake he talks about is all wrong in his account.

On top of that, we have the earlier sense of pazazz (discussed in this answer) from the period 1908–1913 to consider. I have found no evidence that pazazz in the phrase "on the pazazz," had any direct influence on the subsequent word pizzazz, but it certainly made a splash for a while in pre–World War I U.S. slang, and I wouldn’t be astonished if some memory of the older phrase helped shape the spelling of the new pre–World War II U.S. slang term.


After a probable false start in 1898, the first use of pizzazz (usually with the spelling pazazz) arose in the slang phrase "on the pazazz," which had a meaning meaning roughly equivalent to "on the down and out" or "on hard times" during its brief period of currency from 1908 through 1913. The pizazz of 1937 (which subsequently also appeared spelled as pizzazz and pazazz) is so different in meaning that I'm skeptical of there being any direct etymological connection between it and the earlier pazazz. Even so, the earlier term may well have influenced the popular rendering of the later pizzazz, especially if (as some sources argue) the 1937 word was originally pronounced "bizzazz."


It is just possible that it comes from the ancient Hebrew word found in the Book of Samuel to describe King David’s ebullient dancing and frolicking. The Hebrew word is פזז whose transliteration is “peezayz” is remarkably similar to pizazz.


The Hebrew word “pāzaz” means: to be set with pure gold. I’m wondering if someone with a casual understanding of the language threw the term into their conversation until it took on new meaning. I have no proof, of course!


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.


Sounds like onomatopoeia for the sound of effervescence or the sensation of vibrations striking the senses (somewhat like something having "sizzle"?), meaning something sparkling, lively, active, vital--perhaps? If something is glamorous and vibrant then it has pizzazz--? That's what I get from it. Of course the varied usages from previous eras tend to contradict this, except in its most modern sense.

  • 1
    do you have any references to back you up? you'll notice from the tour that we like citations here. Also, please note that this is not a discussion forum. Newer questions can be found here Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 11:16

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