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I have to work with a guy from the US who is known for his extremely laconic way of expressing himself in writing (it is curious there are no problems like the one described below when communicating with him verbally).

Recently I wrote him message asking if he managed to find some old (and quite possibly gone forever) data we had talked about before and received a one-word answer «Zippo.». No more words, nothing attached. What does it even mean? Is it some slang word for naught (from the context of our previous conversation it is clear that it can't be about a zip-archive or zipped files)?

Does any one know the origin of this intriguing word? Is this word in use throughout the US or some local slang (the guy resides in Newark, NJ)?

P. S. Maybe I am wrong and it is not an American slang, but the guy is an American for sure.

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  • Needless to say I failed finding this word in dictionaries...
    – S. N.
    Feb 2, 2019 at 18:30
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    I agree with the accepted answer, but Zippo is also a brand name of a lighter. (see www.zippo.com)
    – Giu Piete
    Feb 24, 2019 at 18:32
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    Fyi, in the States, you also will often hear: zippo, zilch, nada
    – Lambie
    Nov 15, 2023 at 12:35

3 Answers 3

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The Oxford Dictionary has this meaning for zip (among others)

PRONOUN | North American | informal

Nothing at all.
‘you got zip to do with me and my kind, buddy’

with the example

They sat around for a good while scratching their heads and coming up with exactly zippo.

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From the Merriam Webster online dicitonary:

Nothing at all

In the sentence:

have done zippo to reduce the cash crisis

For the origin, the Online Etymology Dictionary states this:

"zero," 1900, student slang for a grade of zero on a test, etc.; of unknown origin;

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According to the OED, zippo is U.S. slang meaning zero, nil, nothing, and is derived from zip which has the same meaning.

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