Someone who is not a native English speaker wrote this in an email to me. I didn't get it clearly in the beginning, so I just asked for the meaning and he replied back he meant "he answered immediately".

Later I searched a little bit on the online dictionaries, and I got the feeling that "he answered zip" is more closer to "he answered nothing". So my first question is what's the actual meaning of "he answered zip"?

Despite the fact it was my first time I saw such a combination, is that a common phrase or not? Is that even correct? And if it is correct, does that carrying a positive message or negative?

3 Answers 3


It's just a playful Americanism (now dated) meaning absolutely nothing - probably coined because it alliterates with zero and zilch.

It tends to connote a complete absence of something expected.


Other words for "nothing" are zero, zip, nada, zilch,... These are usually used to convey emphasis. It's odd that a non-native speaker would use that word.

And it could mean: "He gave no answer" (answered nothing), or "he answered, "Nothing".

  • curious what the roots are to this - did it come from playing with the Z sound, zero, zilch - or from the idea of keeping one's mouth zipped shut ? (or both ?) Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 0:45

It is not a common phrase. At least not in the context you have it in. Zip does indeed refer to nothing but is more commonly used when referring to how much of something you have, you owe, or how many points you scored in the big game. I have never heard it applied to the content of an answer to a question. It may be an expression in your friends native language. Even if it is possible to assign it meaning and even bring that expression into some form of popular or common usage, it isn't currently used like that anywhere that I am aware of.

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