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The expression from zero to hero is an informal saying that means:

  • To change an outcome, one's situation, or oneself from being particularly unsuccessful, negative, unfortunate, or unpopular to being especially successful, positive, fortunate, or popular.

    • After his parents won the lottery, John went from zero to hero in his high school overnight. With computer programming becoming an increasingly in-demand skill, many who might have been picked on in high school are now going from zeros to heroes. (TFD)

The expression is a quite common one and it is used in different contexts like music and tv programs for instance.

Ngram shows that "from zero to hero" became a popular expression especially from the early '90s.

Curiously the ODO has an entry for its opposite from hero to zero , which is used to refer to a sudden, rapid decline in popularity or success.

Questions:

  • When and by whom was the expression 'from zero to hero" first used?

  • Who or what made it popular during the '90s? a song or a sports program for instance?

  • 2
    I'd be curious to know who first coined the phrase ditch the zero and get with this hero, while we are at it. :) – Jonathan Piccirilli Aug 4 '16 at 23:42
  • In Australia this is a colloquial term to refer to an idiot in a souped up car gunning it often from a traffic light. Some often time followed by a car wreck. – FiringSquadWitness Aug 5 '16 at 5:42
  • 4
    Hercules (1997) is where I first remember it :-) – MonkeyZeus Aug 5 '16 at 13:43
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    None of the answers mention it yet, but no doubt the expression evolved out of car ads touting things like "Zero to Sixty in 2.8 seconds." (And in agreement with @MonkeyZeus- I am certain that Disney's Hercules is what made it popular.) – cobaltduck Aug 5 '16 at 15:07
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    @MonkeyZeus came here for the hercules. ZERO TO HERO, JUST LIKE /THAT/ – Qix Aug 5 '16 at 22:31
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Regarding who made "from zero to hero" popular during the 90s.

This phrase was used as the tagline of the 1994 movie The Mask, starring Jim Carrey.

The tagline is visible in this movie poster:

enter image description here

It is also featured prominently on lots of The Mask merchandise, evinced by this Google image search. As you can see, it is featured prominently below the title on all sorts of toys and copies of the film.

The phrase is not, however, actually uttered in the film, evidenced by this script.

This film was very successful, with Wikipedia observing that it was "the second-highest grossing superhero movie at that time, behind Batman".

Perhaps the popularity of this film had to do with the increased usage of the expression in the 90s. Two of the Google Books results from 1991-1997, which are used in plotting the ngram, actually reference the movie directly.

There is no question, however, whether this phrase was in use prior to the film: It certainly was. But tracking down its origin is a project for somebody else.

  • 1
    I personally never knew this phrase was used in The Mask; I cannot recall it being spoken during the movie at least. The animated film Hercules (1997) is what made the phrase memorable for me. +1 anyways :-) – MonkeyZeus Aug 5 '16 at 13:42
  • @MonkeyZeus: It's not used in the movie itself, as this answer points out. Just in the marketing. – Peter Cordes Aug 5 '16 at 15:15
  • @PeterCordes Well I feel foolish, I must have missed that statement when I read this answer. Thanks – MonkeyZeus Aug 5 '16 at 15:36
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SUPPLEMENTARY TO Silenus' ANSWER:
The earliest instance of "zero to hero" I find in Google Books is from 1893, on page 5 of an "Address Before the Second Biennial Convention of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Twentieth Annual Convention of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union" by the WCTU president and women's suffragist Frances E. Willard:

The history of the reformer, whether man or woman, on any line of action is but this: when he sees it all alone he is a fanatic ; when a good many see it with him they are enthusiasts ; when all see it is he is a hero. The gradations are as clearly marked by which he ascends from zero to hero, as the lines of latitude from the North Pole to the Equator.

DavePhD, however, has found an earlier use of "zero" paired with "hero" in Caïssa Rediviva: or, The Muzio Gambit.An Heroi-Comical Poem by An Amateur of Chess, 1836:

Farewell, brave hero,
 Warrior, farewell,
Reduced to zero
 By Macdonnell

  • 1
    Earlier (1836) there was a chorus "Farewell, brave hero, Warrior, farewell, Reduced to zero By Macdonnell" (referring to the chess player MacDonnell) books.google.com/… – DavePhD Aug 5 '16 at 15:00
  • @DavePhD Wow. I'll incorporate that. – StoneyB Aug 5 '16 at 15:16
  • @StoneyB - why does your answer appear as a "community wiki" one? – user66974 Aug 5 '16 at 15:19
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    @Josh61 I set it that way because it's only a partial answer; and because it's supplementary to another answer; and because I anticipated (rightly, it has proved) that earlier matter of relevance might come to light. – StoneyB Aug 5 '16 at 15:23
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    @SpencerWilliams Google Books is yoooogely yoooseful for this sort of thing. – StoneyB Aug 5 '16 at 23:45
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With respect to @Jonathan Piccirilli comment about the origin of "ditch that zero and get with this hero", it appears that the expression was made popular by the 1991 musical comedy "Cool as Ice" where the main character Johnny " says drop that zero and get with this hero" to Kathy, trying to convince her to leave her boyfrind (a loser) for him (a hero).

enter image description here

1

It’s worth noting that the trailer for the 1985 John Hughes movie “Weird Science” used the following tag line:

“They went from zeroes to heroes in one fantastic weekend.”

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